Author: MissKittys Ball O Yarn
Rating: NC-17
Feedback: Yes please! Please leave feedback on the Elemental thread on the Kitten Board.
Summary: Tara as a freelance photographer gets invited to accompany the leading glacier scientist Willow Rosenberg on an expedition into the heart of Denali National Park.
Disclaimer: Joss is the owner of Willow/Tara. I'm just borrowing them.
Note: I'd just like to mention that originally the climax of 'Moon' was going to be centered around a rabid Snowshoe hare who, after an unsuccessful day foraging for food in the Alaskan tundra gets a "wild hair" (pun completely intended) and bites Tara on the butt...but that scene was cut when the hare in question was arrested on a felony drug charge. (I've been told he's outta commission for the next 10-20 years.)
Note2: I'd just like to thank Carleen and Watson and all the other writers in this group for all their input. Most of the time I was sure they were working harder than I was on Moon.
Note3: It's warm in the lodge.
Note4: I have no aversion to gloves in general. In fact...I enjoy both wearing, and seeing others wear gloves.

Willow stood against the wind watching the pilot load equipment into the small compartment underneath the airplane. With its thin frame and long wings the airplane looked as if it would have been more useful as a crop duster than as a passenger plane. Willow let her gaze run the length of the metal along it's slender frame, and was struck for some reason by the name printed there. The letters written in shiny black paint stood out against the cool white and gray tones of the rest of the plane; "Luna2" She read the name aloud, rolling it along her tongue as if she was testing the word for suitability. The name worked for her, it fit. Luna meant moon and both this plane and the moon had something in common; they would both stay in the air when all reason would suggest they should not.

Willow's father gave her a telescope for her birthday one year and since then Willow had always had a mild fascination with the silvery, round rock. It had been a mystery to her where other things had not. For instance, the sun seemed to be held up by it's own radiance. It was a force all its own; it could not be touched or even looked at directly. But the moon had no such radiance. It glowed yes...but it was an algid glow, liquid, and like mercury. It had always seemed to Willow that if she could somehow reach her hand up to touch the moon it would come away feeling cool; the same way an icy can of Cola left her fingers watering and cold. The moon's reflection striking the plane's right wing caused the glowing light to dance along the edge of the transport each time the pilot threw a bag into the hold. The glaring cold of the reflected moonlight skimmed her eyes, causing Willow to look away.

The pilot was a funny looking older gentleman with more hair sprouting on his face than he had growing on top of his head. He wore a denim jacket and jeans. Willow had never met him before. She was over a month ahead of schedule so she had had to go with an alternate charter for this trip. But Willow was glad that this guy seemed to know what he was doing. She wondered if he took people out as remote as she would be going often or if he relied more on the tourists wanting to fly over the less harsh Alaskan landscapes for the bulk of his business. Most pilots did rely on tourists for most of the year, but Willow preferred to have a pilot who had taken the trip at least once. The pilot was an Alaskan native; the cold didn't bother him the same way it bothered Willow. She was from Southern California so she was used to mild winters and balmy summers. Even though she had taken this trip two times a year for the past six years she still couldn't reconcile herself to the feel of an Alaskan chill.

Six years of Glacier research deep in the heart of Denali National Park would seem daunting to the bravest of souls, but to Willow it offered a chance to converge with nature and satisfy the need she had for knowledge. Willow had always been that way, not happy unless she was testing things for herself. The need she had for knowledge, paired with her need for independence, had been the reason Willow had chosen this particular career in the first place. Independence ranked high on her list of priorities; in fact it was second only to a good cup of hot chocolate. Being left to her own devices deep in the heart of glacier country had been very appealing.

Her thirst for knowledge far outweighed her need for the company of people-- not that she didn't have friends. She did. She had many dear friends, in fact...still, she was too happy to get away from them from time to time. Willow had really learned to embrace the solitude that came along with the job of a research scientist in a place as remote as Alaska. The solitude gave her time to reflect on her life; it also gave her friends at home the chance to miss her.

Willow closed her mind to the other thoughts that threatened to emerge. If she was honest with herself she would have to admit that the continued love from her friends back home wasn't the complete reason she welcomed the solitude of making this trip alone each year. The truth was, the one and only time she'd ever brought anyone with her hadn't ended well. And the only thing she had to show for it had been the tragic demise of a semi-established romantic relationship with a woman named Kate. She and Kate had spent the entire time arguing, and it was the most miserable time Willow had ever had. She'd vowed then and there never to do that again.

That vow had held too. For six years she'd turned people away left and right without so much as a bat of her eye....that was until she'd received the phone call that had changed everything...the phone call that had left her defenseless and sweaty palmed.

"All ready Ma'am?"

Willow was brought out from her thoughts by the pilots words and forced to recall the reason they had tarried on the runway for much longer than usual this evening. "No, not quite. I'm still waiting for one more person." Willow looked down at the paper in her hand, reading the name where it sat just above the list of supplies printed there. She had written it in scrawled handwriting and the blue inky lines of the name seemed to stare up at her in accusation.

This trip would be her most extensive yet and Willow should have been more excited but the only emotion she could muster was an anxiety to get it over with. She knew most of her anxiety had to do with the piece of paper in her hand and the name written there. Had she made the wrong decision?

Tara seemed so different from the others when they had talked over the phone. She said she was a freelance photographer, which Willow assumed meant that she didn't have an editor breathing down her neck either, telling her lies of cozy log cabins, and roasting tootsies and marshmallows by the glow of warm fires. And she had seemed so.... down to earth...or was it something else that had drawn Willow in?

Willow wondered why she had agreed to allow this Tara Maclay to tag along with her in the first place. It couldn't have been all about attraction, because she'd never actually laid eyes on the woman. It was something in her voice; there was something in the way Tara Maclay had formed her words that had confused Willow's good senses. And thirty seconds of Tara's voice was all it had taken for Willow to break that pact she'd made with herself six years ago. After the realization of what she'd allowed to happen had had a chance to settle in, Willow had felt a sense of dread in the pit of her stomach. It was going to be Kate all over again; she felt it in her bones.

Overcome with curiosity Willow had managed to wait a whole three minutes after hanging up with the photographer before she'd googled Tara's name. Luckily for Willow, the woman hadn't looked anything like Kate. Tara had blonde hair and the most piercing blue eyes Willow had ever seen. But Willow needed another person underfoot about as much as she needed someone to come along and stomp on her foot. And there had been plenty of opportunities for that to happen over the years, she reminded herself.

Scientific journals were always clambering for an interview, but she'd always had the presence of mind to turn them down. After all, Willow hadn't felt the desire to drag some unsuspecting person into the wilds of an Alaskan expedition in nearly six years. And especially never one lugging a camera. So what had changed this time?

Willow pulled the heavy coat she wore over her flannel undershirt, grasping the buttons tightly in her fist. She could feel the plastic circles biting into the palm of her hand as she thought of the gloves she had tucked away in the duffle bag that the pilot was mishandling into the back of the plane. But knowing where they were and getting to them were two separate issues all together. Luckily Willow had remembered to stuff a reserve pair of gloves into the back pocket of her pants. Willow pulled the gloves out of her pocket and quickly fitted them over her hands. They were lighter than the pair she had in her baggage, but they would do for now.

"Is that your girl, over there?"

Willow looked up at the pilot's words, her eyes following the direction of his gaze. She immediately caught sight of a woman quite a ways away from where she stood. Willow noticed the camera bag slung across the woman's shoulders. She swallowed the lump that was quickly growing in her throat. It was Tara. It had to be; other than the pilot and Willow, she was the only other person who would have any reason to be on the small runway at this time of night.

Tara spotted the redhead when she first stepped out onto the runway. She felt a little nervous at the prospect of meeting the famed researcher and had chosen to hang back, in hopes of gathering her composure. Tara was still finding it hard to wrap her mind around the fact that Willow Rosenberg had actually agreed to any of this.

Tara had been infatuated with the reclusive redhead since the time she had gotten her hands on a transcript of the first interview Willow Rosenberg had ever done. It had been an interview for The Scientific Examiner. At the time of the article, it had still been be a relatively unknown scientific journal, well respected by the scientific community at large but hardly on the nation's radar as a top 10 read.

Tara couldn't remember the exact title of that first article, but she did remember, in great detail, the 3x5 color photo that had accompanied the rather boring black and white print. The picture had portrayed a rather small-framed woman with the most amazing smile Tara had ever seen. She could remember gazing at that picture, and wondering about the type of person Willow was. She didn't want to feel like a weirdo, so she had resisted the urge to cut the picture out and tuck it in her pocket. But even Tara had to admit that there had been many times since then that she wished she had clipped the picture.

The Scientific Examiner had definitely grown in popularity since the first months of its fledgling existence, due mostly to its writers' reputations within the scientific community and their tenacity. It was a clique; Tara had been trying to become a member of the elite group for five years, ever since she began her free-lance career. She started out taking photographs of volcanoes. Her first photograph had been of Mount Hood in Oregon. That photograph had won several major awards and had been Tara's ticket out of the small Idaho town she'd grown up in. And now she was about to meet the woman she had read so much about. Tara had definitely come a long way from the little country girl she had been, before moving to Los Angeles.

Tara was more than nervous about meeting Willow. She was literally shaking in her boots, and it wasn't because of the cold either. In a few moments she would be face to face with the woman she'd admired from a distance for so long. Tara swallowed the anxiety balling itself in the back of her throat.

To tell the truth, Tara still wasn't sure how she had managed to persuade Willow to allow her to go on the excursion in the first place. All she could remember was talking to Willow over the phone one night, getting lost in half the things the woman was rambling about and then ...Bam...the next thing she knew, she was booked for the trip.

Tara was surprised at how fast it had all happened. From what Tara had heard of the researcher through other photographers who'd tried to get booked for one of these trips and had failed, which was why Willow was seen as somewhat of a hard egg to crack. They had taken to calling Willow "The Glacier Rosenberg, " in a passive-aggressive attempt at retaliation. But not Tara. She had always held the researcher in the highest of esteem. It was Tara's opinion after all, that it took a very adventurous person to do the work that Willow Rosenberg was known for. Tara had known from the first time she had looked at Willow's photo that she would like her. She hadn't seen a trace of hardness to the woman at all. In fact her, features were soft and Tara had thought that Willow had the cutest lips she'd ever seen.

The night she had actually worked up enough courage to dial Willow's number was one of the scariest of Tara's life. She hadn't known that the number she'd received from The Institute of Natural Science was Willow's actual home telephone number. Tara had fully expected to be greeted by an artificial voice instructing her, in a polite but mechanical voice, to leave a message. And she would have done so happily and with much enthusiasm, high-pressure situations had never been Tara's strong suit. She had nearly dropped the telephone in surprise when an actual voice greeted her at the other end.

At first Tara hadn't known it was Willow who answered the phone. She thought the incredibly cute voice at the other end must have belonged to a secretary or some other office personnel, but surely not the famed researcher herself. Imagine Tara's surprise when she learned that the person on the other end of the line was indeed the one and only Willow Rosenberg. She would have fallen right then and there had it not been for the fact that she was already sitting.

Tara had managed to get through the conversation without stuttering too much. And Willow's voice had warmed Tara from the inside. She couldn't help but smile as she listened to it float in and out of volume-- growing louder when she'd gotten excited about something she was talking about, and lower when she had been...flirting? Had Willow been flirting with her? Tara had hoped, but still wasn't sure. She thought she had detected something in Willow's voice that suggested something more than polite conversation, but Tara wasn't confident enough in her abilities to read people to say with any certainty that this was so.

They had stayed on the telephone for two hours before either of them noticed the passage of time. Tara had been surprised to discover after they'd hung up, that even after all the talking they had done, the purpose of the actual trip was still lost on her. She was sure that Willow had discussed it at length, but she hadn't been fluent in Willow-babble. She'd had trouble following the conversation as it flitted from thought to thought, without a very distinct line of logic. Deciphering the quirky way Willow spoke was only one obstacle of many. After all, Tara was sure it hadn't helped the situation that she'd found it almost impossible to stay focused on anything other than the lilt in Willow's voice and the heavy beating of her own heart.

Tara was drawn back into the present when she saw Willow notice her. Their eyes met from across the airfield and Tara felt the bats in her stomach, which had been taking a nap, become disrupted in their slumber. She couldn't stand there questioning her good fortune all night. To this day, Tara remembered her mother repeating the old adage "Never look a gift horse in the mouth." She surely wasn't about to examine Willow's teeth too closely...unless asked, of course.

Tara adjusted the strap of the camera bag on her shoulder, the bag suddenly felt too heavy for her feminine frame. She had brought along her best camera; in being the best, it was also the heaviest. Tara absolutely refused to go digital; she believed that pictures lost a certain intimacy when measured in pixels.

Tara looked up to see Willow watching her. Tara took a deep breath, preparing herself for the one moment she'd been fantasizing about for so long. Tara was scared even as her feet continued to cross the distance. She was afraid that the reality of meeting Willow in person wouldn't be as grand as she had pictured it in her head. She momentarily worried that Willow would lose some of her allure in the harsh light of reality. Tara was still feeling self-conscious as she made her way toward the woman and the small plane. Her hands were shaking as she made the journey.

The yellow glow from the lighted towers to her left made the black asphalt look jaundiced. Willow nervously ran her hand through her short, red hair, missing the length it once was for maybe the third time in four years. She longed for another task to occupy her hands, but there was nothing except the sharp chill of the cool night air, and the pilot within twenty yards of her. For lack of anything better to do, Willow ran her hand through her hair again. She could hear Tara getting closer. Her shoes made a series of muted scuffing sounds against the yellowed ground.

Willow turned to face the sound. She made eye contact with Tara as she approached. The least she could do was to pretend to be normal for the amount of time it would take to exchange a mandatory greeting. "Hi, you must be Tara," she said. Willow had always found it easiest to start with the basics.

"Yes, ..." Tara stopped to consider her words... "The photographer." Tara added for good measure, and then felt silly; she didn't mean to imply that Willow didn't remember. "You must be Willow," Tara blushed and extended her hand to the researcher. There was a moment of calm inside Tara, almost as if she were looking directly into her destiny... but that feeling was quickly replaced with another bout of nervousness as she once again reminded herself whose hand she was shaking. Tara tried to keep her hand from trembling in Willow's firm grip.

Tara's wrist was limp and soft in Willow's hand. "I'm glad you could make it." Willow said, feeling suddenly sincere and wondering if her eyes betrayed the actual excitement that was beginning to grow under her skin. She didn't want to let go of Tara's hand, but decorum dictated it a must.

Tara pulled back before her hand had a chance to sweat. "I have to admit that I'm a little n-nervous, I didn't know we would be flying in um...Luna2. Kinda makes me wonder what happened to Luna1," Tara chuckled nervously, not really from fear of the plane itself, even though that had been the theme of the joke she had made. She was nervous. Willow's gaze was so intense; it was as if the researcher was seeing into the depths of Tara's soul.

Willow smiled at Tara's joke. She watched the woman's eyes, but didn't follow Tara's gaze to the airplane. She was too content to lose herself in the bluest blue she had ever seen up close. "Oh that. I promise, it's perfectly safe." Why she lied she had no idea. The only reason Willow wasn't scared to death was because flying in dinky planes had become so routine to her, she no longer cared enough to be scared.

"I believe you." Tara blushed at her own comment and silently chastised herself for coming on too strong.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Willow breathed in through her nose and smiled. She wanted to give Tara one final chance to make a break for it, while, at the same time, wanting the woman to keep talking to her in that intoxicatingly sweet voice. Willow thought at that moment that if she could have kept saying things that required Tara to answer, she would have. Without hesitation. They could have stood there all night as far as Willow was concerned, cold weather and research be damned. Tara seemed to relax a little, which allowed Willow to catch her first glimpse of that wonderful half-smile. Willow directed her attention to Tara's bag. Thinking it must be heavy she made a move she hoped suggested to Tara that she relieve herself of the weight. Willow's hand froze as her fingertips barely grazed the leather strap that sat atop Tara's shoulder. "Can I help you with this...?" She asked, looking into Tara's blue eyes.

Tara's eyes flickered across Willow's fingers where they rested in the air just above her shoulder. She could almost feel Willow's fingers as if they were moving slowly toward their destination. But they weren't, and the redhead was asking her a question. Tara tried to think about what the question had been but found herself drawing a blank. Willow was looking at her with a questioning intensity and Tara felt the pressure to answer. And then her mind cleared and she was able to recall Willow's previous words. "Oh, that's okay, I got it." Tara slipped the strap from her shoulder and set the bag on the ground next to her feet. Then another thought occurred to her. "What will we be doing? I mean, I know we talked on the phone about the trip, but we never really d-discussed--I mean, I'm not sure if we--" Tara felt nervous about admitting that she still had no idea about the purpose of the trip but her anxiety was instantly put at ease by the soft twinkle in Willow's eyes.

"Oh, you know...the usual. The effect that oil drilling and caribou migration has on the rate of glacier melt-down...wooly mammoths, tundra men...or women..." Willow added, not wanting to seem sexist. "Global warming...Grizzly pick." She gripped the paper with Tara's name written on it tightly in her hand, feeling it crinkle between her fingers, as she tried to joke her way out of the babble that she felt approaching. She hadn't felt this way in a very long time.

Tara brought her hand against her mouth to cover her smile-a habit she'd always had-and suppressed a laugh. She had to remind herself to listen carefully when the redhead talked; otherwise she just knew she'd spend the rest of the trip playing "catch-up" to Willow's rambles.

Willow took note that Tara had concealed her smile and wondered why someone as beautiful as Tara was would feel the need to hide it. Willow must have been staring because in the next moment, Tara looked away, and the hint of a blush darkened the photographer's cheeks. Willow would have to remind herself not to stare; it really wasn't the polite thing to do.

But it was Tara's long blonde hair that kept drawing Willow in. Tara's hair looked like strands of corn silk peeking out from under the knitted cap she wore. It seemed almost impossible for Willow to tear her eyes away for any significant length of time, so she didn't. Willow allowed her eyes to linger there until the photographer's blue eyes caught and dragged willow's gaze away.

They fell into a comfortable silence that lingered for a moment as they felt each other out, but the fragile interaction was cut short by the sound of the pilot's voice, insisting it was time to head out.

Tara was the most intriguing creature Willow had ever had the privilege to talk to. For the entire 2-hour flight, she found herself held in rapt attention as Tara told her about her life. It seemed to be so easy for Tara to open up about personal things- things that Willow could only ever dream of feeling comfortable enough to talk about. She'd never been able to talk to Kate about personal things so Tara's openness only served to heighten Willow's senses. By the end of the flight she felt so in tune with Tara, Willow was sure she could have been mistaken for a moth flittering around Tara's burning flame.

Willow listened throughout the plane ride for any indication that Tara was of the same persuasion as she, but there had been nothing to indicate that this was mention of a mysterious lover or an embarrassing coming out story...nothing. Willow had wanted to ask her straight out but had been afraid that she would receive an answer she wasn't prepared to accept. Right then, Willow was content to imagine that Tara was experiencing the same feelings for her as she was feeling for Tara. She didn't want to mess anything up either, she couldn't stand the thought that this comfortable and friendly interaction she was sharing with Tara could turn as hostile and venomous as it had with Kate. After all, she and Kate had started out on the right foot too, and it had only taken two hours alone together for the left foot of reality to come down and whack them across their heads. She would have to be careful, she liked Tara...maybe more than she was really ready to admit and that scared her a little.

"Wow, the moon is so beautiful here. So big and omniscient." Tara said, once the plane had stopped and the door pulled open. Willow had stepped out ahead of her and Tara could see the moon floating out in front of them.

The moon bathed the Luna2 in gray light, effectively wrapping the small plane in a bright halo. Tara felt encompassed in this halo as she stood in front of the open doorway. She took a step toward the ramp that stretched out in front of her, moving without consciousness, drawn by the pull of the moon's luminescence. At that moment, Tara understood the ebb and flow of the tides. She looked up at the moon again and felt dizzy. She felt as if gravity had suddenly changed the rules on her. Tara stepped off the plane and instantly felt her body flowing into Willow' s space from behind. It was probably just jet lag, she told herself even though, technically, they were still in the same time zone. All the traveling she had done that day must have been enough to make her feel clumsy.

"It's lovely ..." Willow was speaking of Tara's beauty but disguised it in conversation about the moon. She felt Tara press up against her from behind, and stilled her movement to brace Tara's descent. Willow imagined that she could feel Tara's soft breasts up against her back. She imagined she could feel Tara's nipples hardening at the contact. Willow suppressed the urge to moan, knowing she didn't want to seem like a pervert. She quickly dismissed the thought because it would have been impossible to feel Tara's nipples through the heavy jacket the photographer wore. Willow turned around just in time to catch the briefest smile from Tara's lips before her eyes left to make the journey back to the heavens. "The moon, I mean." Willow quickly covered the true meaning of her words and, feeling the nakedness of her honesty, pulled her jacket closer against her body.

This was the last stop they would be making before civilization disappeared altogether and Willow was left alone with just Tara and the ever-present moon. "We should change. It's only going to get colder from here on out," Willow explained, indicating the duffle bags that pilot had taken off the plane. Willow's gaze drifted out past the frozen asphalt, out past the line of trees that marked the beginning of the Alaskan wilderness. Willow breathed a heavy sigh of relief at the prospect of seeing Mr. Gordon, the lodge keeper, and his wife Mrs. Gordon. Mrs. Gordon always made the best hot chocolate.

"We should probably head out. There's a lodge a half a mile away, we can change there. I stay there every time I'm out's really very...close by. "Willow had wanted to use the word "lovely" again, but she knew she'd already used up her quota on the word and if she said it one more time it might start to lose it's meaning. Willow turned back to find Tara watching her intently. Tara's cheeks were a dusty shade of white, which was quite the opposite of the bright red and wind-blown look Willow was sure she was sporting about then. "We should probably head out- I said that already didn't I?" Willow blushed "....It's getting late, and I want to make it to the base tonight." Willow felt distracted by Tara's nearness and her words sounded breathy and faint even to her own ears. She wondered how they sounded to Tara. She wondered how she sounded to Tara. Could the blonde see the effect she was having on her?

Willow turned away and began to walk in the direction of the all-terrain vehicle that was waiting for them on the other side of the landing strip. The all-terrain vehicle was housed in an outside garage that was attached to the small control station that sat just ahead of them. There was barely any snow on the ground at this altitude and the runway was kept salted and free of ice, so their walk to the garage took a relatively short amount of time. Tara fell into step next to her and Willow took a deep breath. She could see her breath in the air, as it puffed out before her in white wisps of frigid cold. Willow watched the moon as they walked. She watched it follow them with its silver gaze, and she wondered if the moon could sense the underlying attraction she felt for Tara.

Willow remembered back to a time as a child, riding in the car, she recalled asking her mother once why the moon always followed them home. Her mother had answered her innocent question with a harsh rebuke and a lecture on thinking before speaking. It hadn't been the fact that her mother had been harsh so much as it had been the fact that Willow, in all her innocence, had sought information from her mother, but had been turned away. That moment in time had always haunted Willow; it had been the moment she realized that adults don't always have all the answers.

Willow couldn't help but wonder if that was the reason she found it so hard to voice her true feelings about things. She knew she was an over thinker, and most of the time that was an okay way to be...but there were some instances in which Willow wished she could be the type to throw caution to the wind, and tell people her true feelings. This was one such instance -- with Tara next to her, matching her step for step, and the scarf around the creamy white skin of her neck. Willow was all too happy to lose herself momentarily in the thought of Tara, but the moon was quick to pull her back into reality. The half cut-out face that had been chiseled on its surface by thousands and thousands of asteroids slamming into it repeatedly for however long it had existed shown clearly in the black sky. Being the dumping ground for space debris didn't seem a fitting job for such a heavenly body.

Tara kept pace with Willow, trying not to look directly at her. She didn't want to risk being caught staring. Though she did manage to catch glimpses every so often when she was certain Willow wasn't paying attention. She loved the way Willow's hair parted down the middle and thought it was incredibly cute the way the cold turned the researcher's nose a rosy shade of red. The collar of Willow's flannel jacket tucked itself neatly against Willow's neck and Tara wondered if the skin beneath the material was warm or if it would feel as cold to Tara's fingers as Willow's face looked.

The walk to the garage seemed to take forever and it wasn't clear why they were going in that direction until Tara saw the all-terrain vehicle. She thought about asking but by the concentrated look on the redhead's face, Tara wasn't sure she would have gotten a clear answer even if she'd asked. She didn't feel like talking anyway, she was too content to stay silent and let the night's events transpire as they would.

The vehicle was covered with an ashy white tarp that looked as if it was made out of the material used for parachutes. The all-terrain vehicles' nose and right tire jutted out just beyond the covering. The rest of the lump was rather small so Tara was able to tell, even from that distance, that it was going to be a tight fit if Willow expected them to ride together on that machine. Tara couldn't help being excited at the prospect of having to press her body snuggly against Willow's. And if boldness then prevailed over the momentary shyness she was now feeling, she would make sure to wrap her arms tightly around Willow's waist.

As they climbed higher into Denali's backcountry, the light snow on the ground steadily increased, becoming drifts as high as cars on the side of the small, winding road. The park rangers had done a good job of keeping the actual road to the lodge cleared and free of snow though, so traversing along it was fairly easy. They did have to go slow regardless of how "good" the conditions seemed on the road though, because there could have been hidden patches of ice anywhere along the way.

Willow felt Tara's arms tighten around her waist as the sight of the lodge came into view. Tara's hands had been there all along, driving Willow crazy with the innocently intimate way they pressed against her body. It wasn't until that moment, however, that Tara's presence had really begun driving her to distraction. Willow could feel the muted warmth of Tara against her back, even through the layers of clothing they wore, and it took all of Willow's concentration not to steer them into a snow-covered ditch before they could make it to the safety of the lodge.

Willow parked the vehicle under the covered shelter. Dismounting, Willow held out her hand to help Tara down. There was a spark of something that passed between them as they momentarily stood still, their fingers lightly gripping the tips of the other woman's hand.

Tara saw Willow's lips turn into a smile, flashing a bit of teeth just as the warm smile turned into a cheeky grin.

"Shall we?" Willow asked, as if she was inviting Tara to dance.

Tara nodded, returning Willow's smile as she and allowed allowing herself to be helped down from off the all-terrain vehicle.

Willow was careful with her, making sure that she had her footing before letting go of Tara's hand.

It was cold that evening, but not terribly so-- 27 degrees could be considered a pretty calm night for this particular region. Tara was grateful for that, because she was already freezing. She could barely feel her fingers through the gloves and though she couldn't tell for sure, she was fairly certain her toes were in a similar condition. Tara felt her nipples harden as the chilly night air touched them through the thick folds of the heavy coat she wore, the cold air pinching them into hardened pebbles.

Aside from being a cold night, it was also a clear night. Tara could see the stars shining brightly in the sky like tiny pinpricks of light, almost like the fairy lights she had had in her room as a child. She still remembered the way they lit up the darkness with their comforting, mellow glow.

"We're here," Willow ran her gloved hand down the length of Tara's arm, and felt a shiver pass through her body at the contact. She wondered what had distracted Tara.

"This is what they call a lodge up here huh?" Tara asked, smiling as she lifted the last layer of protective clothing from her body. When Willow had said "lodge ", Tara's mind instantly drummed up every magazine photo of a lodge she had ever seen... a roaring fire place, a leather couch and the horns of some poor deceased animal mounted on the walls. This "lodge" had none of those things and it occurred to Tara that this was probably much more authentic. In a rustic way, it was a charming little space. In fact, Tara liked this "lodge" much more than any of those magazine versions. She particularly loved the warmth of the hand crafted wooden floor. The planks of wood used were finished, but looked as if they had come directly from the tree and nailed down with hammer and nails. Tara could even see the head of each nail where it was hammered flush with the floorboards. The walls were made of wood as well, and Tara could see the white sealer in between each log.

The ceiling was a little different. Tara couldn't tell if it was made of wood or something made to resemble wood. She couldn't see any visible lines between the boards nor could she see sealer or any other indication that the ceiling was anything other than one solid structure.

"Best around." Willow flipped a switch and two space heaters situated at either end of the room blinked to life. The room was small enough that it wouldn't take long to heat the place nor would it take much to keep it warm enough for them. Willow could already feel her skin prickle as it began to heat up, though she wasn't sure if it was from the electrical devices she'd just turned on or from Tara's close proximity to her.

In truth, she was glad to be back. She had missed this place in the six months since she'd seen it last. The lodge owners, Mr. and Mrs. Gordon, had become friends of hers over the years and had always kept this room off the list of available rentals so that it would be just as Willow left it each time she returned. Mr. and Mrs. Gordon lived year round in the main cabin 50 yards away. It was a quick walk to the abundant supply of hot chocolate Mrs. Gordon always seemed to have on standby.

Willow put her pack down and pulled her laptop out of its protective covering. She set it up on the desk that lined the far wall. The hook-up was easy and almost instantaneously she was logged into the mainframe of the central computer network supported by the Institute she worked for. The central computer network was wired to the outpost dome that was situated miles away from the lodge.

Tara watched the redhead type wildly on the keyboard, her fingers flying over keys. But the only thing Tara could see was a line of numbers scrolling across the screen, and a furrowed brow etching itself in the redhead's features.

Willow sighed as the data appeared on the screen. "There's a blizzard headed toward the outpost station. I was hoping to get out there tonight, but that blizzard isn't going to let up. There's no way we'll be able to get there right now." Willow absently put her hand across her forehead. "It looks like we're crashing here for the night."

If it had been just her, she might have chanced it, but Tara was with her. Willow knew she couldn't risk Tara's life. Besides, spending the night at the lodge - alone -- with the blonde photographer wasn't the worst thing she could imagine. "Do you want some hot chocolate?"

"Tell me something about you," Tara said, sipping hot chocolate from the snow-white mug. The marshmallows drifted toward her lips to converge at the rim like cracked, melting ice on the surface of a frozen sea.

They sat cross-legged on the floor, only a few feet of space separating them.

"I'm afraid of frogs."

"I'm being serious."

"So am I." Willow caught Tara's glance. "Whenever I see one, I freak." Willow took a drink from the blue mug in her hand; a few escapee drops of chocolate made a break for it and ran recklessly, but with purpose, down the glossy surface of the ceramic mug. Willow wiped at the streaks with the tip of her finger, ending what would have been a successful get-a-way. Willow brought her finger to her mouth, her tongue licking at the drippy chocolate.

Tara swallowed at the sight of Willow's tongue as it came out to catch the bit of cocoa on the redhead's finger. Her eyes cut shyly to the chocolate in her own cup as thoughts of taking Willow's finger into her mouth and sucking away what remained of the sticky sweetness began in her mind. "Well, I can't imagine that." Tara said; her hands encircled the mug on either side, absorbing what they could of the warmth it emitted. She was beginning to feel hot. The small space heater to Willow's left, set the side of her face aglow with warm, red light. Tara watched, mesmerized by the sight. She felt the urge to reach out and slip her fingers into Willow's hair. She imagined that her fingertips would graze just behind the redhead's ear. She imagined that she could hear Willow moan and feel the woman's head tilt into the warmth of her palm.

Lost in a world of her own, Tara pictured that same hand slipping in further to cup the back of Willow's neck. Their eyes would meet and Tara would flex her fingers against the smoothness of Willow's delicate skin. For a moment they would be still, their eyes sparkling against the radiant glow of the space heaters. All the while, Tara would search for a sign that Willow wanted something more to happen. That sign would come in the form of a pretty pink tongue wetting the slight slip of Willow's bottom lip. Tara would see it glistening and know that Willow desired Tara just as much as she desired Willow. They would come together then, the first kiss between them tentative and feather light. That would all change as soon as Tara slipped her tongue against Willow's lips, lightly caressing the sweetness there and pleading, without begging, for entrance. There would be a moan of unknown origin, a tangle of muted vowel sounds as lips crashed against lips and tongues dueled for control of that very, sweet kiss.

Desperately lost in passion, clothes would seem to shed themselves as if by magical means and neither woman would remember who took off what first. But in that moment it wouldn't matter; all that mattered was satisfying the growing ache in their centers. Tara imagined herself slipping a hand below the waist of Willow's panties, her fingers gently combing through what would be the softest hair she had ever touched. Her fingers would slip through silk until she found the source of Willow's wetness. Willow would let out a moan as Tara slipped a single finger inside, feeling the wet tightness of the redhead's vaginal walls as Tara's finger was milked in wave after wave of delicious contractions.

Tara wondered if Willow would lift her hips to meet Tara's thrusting hand or if she would lie there trembling with desire and clutching at the wooden floor. Tara didn't know for sure, but she suspected that Willow was not the submissive type and wouldn't be too shy to let her body tell Tara just exactly what she needed. So Willow would lift her hips to meet Tara's finger as it slipped in and out of her body. Tara would take her time, adding a second finger when the time came that the first was not enough. With two fingers gliding in and out, and Willow's hips arching off the floor, Tara would use her thumb to search for the engorged nub that barely peeked out from between Willow's glistening lips. Tara would caress the tiny organ in soft circles, amazed at the ripples that would flood her entire hand at the small touch.

Feeling Willow's mounting orgasm, Tara would slow the thrust of her fingers and with her other hand she would reach out to Willow's pert breasts and pinch a strawberry nipple between her thumb and forefinger. Rolling the hardened pebble between the pads of her fingers, she would straddle Willow's body in order to keep the redhead's bucking hips pressed firmly to the floor. Willow would have her turn, but right then it was Tara's turn and she wanted to make it count. Slipping her fingers from the inside of Willow's body, Tara would slide down the length of Willow's slim frame, until she fitted tightly between Willow's legs. Using her nose she would nuzzle the salty sweet patch of hair just above Willow's throbbing clit before slipping it between the redheads smooth lips. Tara would finish what her fingers started with the softer flesh of her tongue. Tara knew she would moan when she pushed her tongue into Willow's body, tasting for the first time the succulent sweetness that was uniquely Willow. Tara would bury her face between Willow's legs, thrusting, sucking and licking the woman until she came in an explosion so great Tara would have to hold on for dear life to keep her mouth planted firmly against Willow's quivering flesh.

"Why not?"

"Hmm?" Tara was unsure of the question, as she hadn't exactly been able to hear Willow over the deafening sound of her own heartbeat. Had she moaned out loud or just silently in her own thoughts? Tara hoped that Willow couldn't see the flush that she felt beginning across her face, chest and neck. Tara blushed when she felt the wetness between her legs. She felt a little embarrassed that she had let her mind wander so far from reality.

"You said you couldn't imagine me having frog fear."

"Did I?" Tara breathed a sigh of relief. Whether it was because Willow hadn't noticed the state she was in, or, if she had, had chose not to mention it, Tara wasn't quite sure. Tara knew Willow expected her to respond so she had to think of something quick; she said the first thing that came to mind. "It's don't seem the type to be afraid of much."

"I'm's just frogs for some reason...with their slimy bodies, webbed toes and sticky tongues..." Willow shivered. She set her cup on the floor, the muted thud of ceramic against the wooden floor echoed briefly in the small space. She brought her eyes back up to meet Tara's...was it just her imagination or did Tara seem flushed? "Are you okay...? 'Cause you seem hot. Are you hot? 'Cause I could turn down the heaters if you want," Willow said as she stood up.

"Thank you. It is kind of...warm in here." Tara's words trailed off as Willow hit the switch that turned off the heater nearest them. The other remained glowing red-hot in order to take the bite out of the cold.

Willow extended her hand to Tara. She swallowed the warmth that traveled the length of her arm when Tara took her hand. Their fingers gripped each other lightly as Tara allowed Willow to help her stand. They were still holding hands when Willow, noticing Tara's distraction, spoke again. "Watch this..."Willow said, stretching her other arm to reach one of the buttons against the wall. She pushed it and the swish of electronic movement began above them.

This was Willow's favorite part about the room. She watched Tara's face as the blonde stared up at the retreating ceiling above them. By the time that the process had completed itself, all that remained above them was a clear synthetic dome and the brilliance of the night sky. Willow watched Tara's eyes widen in surprise and delight as her blue eyes fixed on the sky. A feeling of pleasure wisped its way through Willow's body as she watched, transfixed by the vision of Tara drenched in moonlight. Willow touched another button and the lights dimmed until their artificial glow was non-existent and all that remained was the clear, crisp night and the twinkling stars above them.

They fell into a comfortable silence. The previous enthusiasm for discussion trickled away so all that was left with was the glow from the space heater and the ashen light coming from the translucent ceiling above them. The night sky began it's cosmic dance in the heavens while they reclined, once again, on the wooden floor, their backs against the wall as they watched in utter fascination as a shooting star fell from the sky, streaking across the lightened, gauzy, blue/black sky. Tara took her eyes away from the beautiful expansive of black night above them to watch Willow's face as the moonlight flooded her features and cascaded through her hair in gray-toned sparks and flecks. Tara wanted to lean over and kiss Willow, but not on the lips. No. She wanted to lean over and press her lips to Willow's neck, just above her collarbone. But she wouldn't. She couldn't. But she wanted to and that was enough for her at that moment.

As it grew later and later -- or earlier depending on how you wanted to look at it -- neither of them made a move for the only bed in the room.

They changed their clothes; Willow put on a more comfortable set of long johns and watched the slightly open bathroom door. She could see Tara's shadow slipping in and out of its shadow clothes. It was quite warm in the room but Willow was still surprised when Tara came out in nothing but a long t-shirt that came to about the middle of her thighs. Willow swallowed and looked away quickly before Tara could see that she was watching her. Willow tried to pretend that the sight of Tara's legs did nothing to her body, but she couldn't deny for long that the room seemed to have become twenty degrees warmer in a matter of seconds. "I'll take the floor," Willow said quickly, trying to make up for her thoughts by sacrificing her comfort for the night.

Willow untied the rolled up sleeping bag from the back of her pack. She spread the thickly insulated sleeping bag onto the floor. Taking one of the pillows from the bed Willow placed it at the head of her makeshift bed.

"You don't have to...there's plenty of room up here." Tara said from the bed, her legs crossed beneath her Indian style. Tara watched Willow's face for any sign that Willow had picked up on the signals Tara was sending her, but Willow's expression remained unreadable in the dim light. Tara began to wonder if Willow was actually noticing anything at all about her. She was certain that it was blaringly obvious what she had meant when she asked Willow to join her in the bed. But Willow had remained silent and that had left Tara feeling...nothing. Maybe she was being a silly girl for even entertaining the thought that Willow might have been looking at her earlier that night with more than photographs on her mind. Would she always be "Tara the photographer" to Willow or could she be something a lover?

Willow's eyes never left the view from the dome as she lay there on the floor thinking about Tara and the offer the blonde had made. The lust driven part of her wished that she had accepted Tara's offer to share the bed, but she tried to push lust aside and think about what was best for the expedition. Willow knew that the potential to screw up any intimate interaction was great and she just couldn't risk making an unwanted advance and thus having to feel like a jerk for the rest of the trip. And Willow didn't think she could have lasted two minutes without touching the blonde, but she didn't even know if that had been what Tara was inviting her to do. She had to be absolutely sure that this was what Tara wanted first. Willow blinked once, and then again as she thought about the best way to go about that. She might have to resort to the dreaded technique of asking...Sure it sounded as simple as saying "hey Tara, so...what team do you play for?" But there were problems with using sports terminology as well, it just reeked of the butchiness, and the last thing she wanted Tara to think was that she was large with the butch or something. Willow frowned, trying to come up with a plan that lacked all possibility for humiliation.

After a while Willow gradually heard the blonde's slow even breathing. Tara was already asleep, so Willow had missed her chance that night. She wondered if another chance like this one would present itself in the future....they did have three weeks together, after all. There was plenty of time to get intimately acquainted with the photographer.

Willow may have missed out on her chance to explore any further possibilities with Tara that night, but it didn't stop her from thinking 'what if'. What if she had climbed into bed with Tara earlier...

They would lie facing each other, neither speaking a word. Tara might have taken Willow's hand, lifting it to her lips in a display of intimacy that would take Willow's breath away. Willow wouldn't have been expecting that. She knew she wouldn't have been able to move as Tara drew closer to her, her lips parted. Willow's own lips would part of their own volition. Willow imagined that she could feel the heat of Tara's body. In Willow's vision, the clear, domed ceiling seemed to engulf her while the moon's silvery glaze drifted over her body, sliding between her thighs before transforming into the most delicious, wet, slippery need she had ever experienced.

Willow would feel Tara pulling her, drawing from her body a continuous tension that kept building and building no matter how many times it was relieved. She would twist her fingers in Tara's hair while Tara's lips between her thighs caused Willow's body to loose all abandon. Willow would lift her hips pressing herself firmly against Tara's sweet lips as another orgasm shook her body. Willow would feel Tara kiss the inside of her thigh before laying her cheek against Willow's wetness. She would want to pull Tara to her, for Tara to bury her face in Willow's breasts and let her stroke her face with the tip of her finger. But she would hold back, unable to voice this need. Instead, Willow would bring Tara to her to explore in depth every contour and curve of Tara's body, starting with the skin at the back of her neck. She had seen Tara's bare legs when the blonde came from the bathroom earlier that evening, and she had seen her hands. She had been up close and personal with Tara's hands, from handshake to watching the way Tara held her mug of cocoa carefully and with both hands wrapped snuggly around the heated cylinder. But it was the back of Tara's neck that Willow really wanted to become intimate with. She would brush the silky, blonde hair to the side and hesitate only a moment before bringing her lips fully against the soft skin there. In Willow's fantasy Tara's neck was as soft as downy feathers against her lips and tasted of Tara-skin and salt.

Willow would move to stand, bringing Tara up with her. And then standing behind Tara's plush body Willow would bring her own hands around to cup Tara's ample breasts, one in each palm. She would barely graze each nipple before lust made her pinch them less delicately. Willow wondered if Tara's nipples would be larger or smaller than her own. Would they be a mouthful, presenting themselves in thick readiness to be sucked or she wondered if they would need licked and coaxed to grow, small and ultra-sensitive so that the barest breath could incite a reaction. Willow would want to test all this, and much more.

They made it to the outpost station a little after five the next evening.

The blue flashing light on the building's west tower blipped in and out as the snow-bound outpost station sat nestled half way up to it's roof in snow on either side. The light rotated in place slowly each flash coming in even, steady intervals.

The blizzard didn't look to have been too bad, because they could still see the upper part of the igloo shaped building peaking out over top of the snow and the door was left uncovered. Willow attested this to the fact that the wind had been blowing in a southeasterly direction which meant it did the most damage to the station's backside and eastern flank. The door and one window on the right side was left serviceable.

Using the keypad, Willow typed in the selected code and then push the heavy metal door open. The room was small and lined with electronic boards and machines. A bed the size of a cot sat to the right was the only indication that the room had any function other than data entry. A single chair pushed up against the largest of the room's three boards was the only other sign of comfort. The buttons flashed red until Willow threw the switch, causing the emergency lights to flood the room in muted brightness.

Willow examined Tara's face in the dim light, wanting to see if it had finally hit the woman as to what she'd actually gotten herself into. But Tara just sat her pack against the bed and began loosening the hood of her thermo-insulated parka from around her face. Soon her scarf joined her parka on the chair.

This was such a wonderful woman. Willow felt badly about comparing Tara to Kate the previous day. It was apparent that Tara was nothing at all like Willow's former lover. She wasn't like anyone Willow had ever met. Tara didn't seem to be fazed at all by her surroundings and looked completely at home as she sat down on the edge of the bed. But still Willow could sense something behind Tara's brave exterior...

Tara looked up to see Willow smiling the most adorable smile at her and silently wondered what she had done to incite such a reaction from the redhead. If she knew she'd do it again...and more often after that. Tara returned the smile.

Tara knew she looked brave, but secretly she was terrified. It hadn't hit her until they had left every single sign of civilization behind. Everything had disappeared and there was nothing left but the snow. Tara thought Willow must be the strongest person she knew to be able to handle this journey as often as she did. Tara found herself suddenly curious about something.

"Is it always just you or do you usually have a crew?" Tara watched Willow lean back against the counter she was standing in front of.

"Well, yes and no. It's not safe to come out here completely alone, I'm supposed to have someone within reach at all times. But my version of "within reach" and the institute's version is different."

"How different?"

"Let's just say I'm using a whole other dictionary. I usually bring two extra sets of hands with me each time, but they don't come out here... No one has been out here with me......since Kate." Willow couldn't believe she'd said that. She saw a look she didn't recognize cross Tara's face and cursed herself for mentioning Kate. She'd really just meant to make Tara feel special, but she could tell that the opposite effect had occurred.

"Until now...?" Tara said. She was thrown by the mention of this other person. Was Willow trying to tell her that she was already involved with someone? Another woman? She wondered who Kate was to Willow.

Willow needed to change the subject. "So, what do you want for dinner? I've got...." Willow reached into a box to the left of her. "Freeze-dried chili, freeze-dried alphabet soup, freeze-dried sardines and frozen crackers...I wouldn't recommend the crackers....I think this was the same package that was here last time. Oooo! Freeze-dried couscous.....this stuff is the best." Willow smiled and held up the package.

They ate the couscous while they talked. The topic of discussion was mostly about the next day's agenda. Willow said she wanted to take core samples from the glacier nearest them in the morning, and that Tara was welcome to walk around and take pictures of whatever pleased her. As for Tara, she already knew she'd be sticking close to Willow the next day, for more reasons than the obvious. There were bears that wandered the Alaskan Tundra. Willow told her to watch for tracks if she wandered too far.

That night neither of them questioned who would take the cot. There was only one, and the concrete floor would have been much to cold and uncomfortable for either of them to sleep on.

Willow climbed onto the cot, scooting her body back until it was flush against the wall. She wanted to make enough room so that Tara wouldn't feel to uncomfortable. The blanket wrapped around her body, curved back behind her acting as a shield against the cold concrete at her back. Willow was strangely calm as Tara climbed tentatively onto the cot.

Tara had replaced the long t-shirt from the night before with a pair of sensible long johns because the temperature in the outpost station was considerably colder than it had been in the lodge with the space heaters running full force. There was only one heater here and it was situated in the corner of the room, but did little to repel the chill that clung to the air.

Tara was instinctively drawn into Willow's body, but their contact remained hesitant and brief. Tara lay on her side, facing away from Willow.

But the second their brains checked out for the night, their bodies took over. They tangled around each other, legs interlocking and arms encircling. Willow woke up that night to find Tara snuggled securely against her chest, the blonde's arm draped heavily around Willow's waist. Willow's own arm had wrapped itself around Tara in the night and was holding the blonde against her body with as much intimacy as a lover would.

Willow wanted to stay like that, but the gentlewoman in her wouldn't allow it. Willow brought her warmed fingers from around Tara's waist, lifting them toward the skin of Tara's cheek. She hesitated, her fingers hovering above Tara's face as Willow took in the sight of Tara's silky skin bathed in the moonlight from the small, insulated window near them....her blonde lashes looked dipped and soft in the muted, grey light. Willow breathed in heavily and felt Tara stir against her. Tara's eyes fluttered open and then they were looking at each other.

Tara's breath caught when she opened her eyes to find herself in Willow's arms. She had felt the connection between them even while she slept and she had kept her eyes closed a few seconds longer, afraid to let that feeling slip away. And then she realized that the warm feeling of Willow's nearness was real and not a dream brought on by the moon.

They were moving toward each other separately and in their own skin, yet together as one. Tara licked her lips, unable to do anything to stop the pull of gravity between them.

Willow felt the first touch of Tara lips against her own. It was electric, and the most real thing she had ever experienced. Underneath her own, Tara's lips parted, opening for Willow. That delicate invitation was the only one Willow needed.

This was what she wanted wasn't it? This is what she had been thinking about since the very first time she had heard Tara's voice across the phone line, wasn't it? The answer was yes. Willow deepened the kiss, tiny tendrils of emotion and electricity traveled through her body when Tara moaned in her arms.

Lying beneath the silvery shimmer of the Alaskan moon, they held hands in the dark and watched the first fluttering of snowflakes blow across their vision. Pretty soon snow would cover the small window and their view of the night sky, but for now they were content to let it happen. They would have many more nights to enjoy the view, after all, it was only Monday.

Next in the Elemental series: Fire by tarawhipped

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