Return to The Game of Love Chapter Eighteen

The Game of Love

Author: Shai
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Unfortunately neither Tara nor Willow are mine. Neither's anyone else in this fic for that matter!

The game was continued. Luckily for Willow, it didn't point her way again for the remainder of the game, and she was left to her own thoughts. "Why did I think of kissing Tara??" she wondered, as she kept looking the blondes way.

Tara was working with a bit of a frown on her face. Willow remembered seeing her turn away from her long after she'd kissed Buffy as part of the dare. "Was she watching me?" the redhead wondered. "And why do I want the answer to that to be 'yes'?

Willow thought about the blonde, and everything she knew about her so far. She admitted that it wasn't much... and yet she was already very fond of the girl. "She tries to act so tough... but I know that she's not like that at all. I've seen her eyes when she's looking at people, not knowing that she's being watched as well. And there's a tenderness in them that I've never seen before".

Willow continued watching Tara at work, although she kept looking at other places at regular intervals since she didn't want anyone catching her looking at Tara. "And why am I looking at Tara so much?" she wondered, but didn't stop watching the blonde. She took in how Tara typed at an amazing speed, without looking at the keyboard at all. How she'd stop and just watch the screen for a few minutes while she thought. How she'd move her fingers in the air over the keyboard as she contemplated what to type. How she'd tilt her head to one side and regard the screen, her lips moving slightly as she read what she'd written.

Suddenly Tara shut her laptop, and stood up. Willow immediately pretended that she was listening to Nicole, as she answered some question posed by Buffy about her love life.

"I'm going to the balcony to get a smoke. Anyone coming?" Tara asked, looking at the rest of the girls. Anya nodded her head and rose from her place, joining Tara at the door to the bedroom. They were about to walk through when Tara said "Wait" and walked to her fridge, taking out two pints of beer for herself and Anya. "Anyone else?" she asked, looking at the girls sprawled on the floor. Most of them nodded their heads, and Tara began tossing beers their way. "There's other non-alcoholic drinks in here too" Tara said, shutting the fridge. "Please feel free to help yourselves" she said, as she walked back towards Anya. "Anyone that wants to come out onto the balcony's welcome. And oh, I've got a couple of DVD's in the cabinet over there, next to my music. If anyone wants to watch a movie, or TV, go into the room, ok?"

This was greeted by murmurs of "sure" and "thanks", and Tara and Anya finally walked to the balcony. Buffy turned to Cordelia, "So what do you wanna do Cordy?" she asked.

Cordelia said "Lets go watch some TV" and got up, as the others followed suit. Willow also went in, still lost in her own thoughts. Once in the bedroom the girls lowered their voices, since Sean was asleep in a sleeping bag. Most squeezed onto the bed, while the others took the armchairs and the sleeping bags. Nicole found the remote and turned on some movie that was playing on HBO.

Willow, who'd taken one of the armchairs, pretended like she was watching TV, but kept stealing glances onto the balcony, where Tara and Anya were smoking and sipping on beer. She watched as Tara laughed at something that Anya said, and was once again struck by how lovely the sound of Tara's laughter was. "She doesn't do that enough" the redhead thought.

So lost was she again in her own world that she didn't notice Buffy come up to her. "Hey Will... Will?" Buffy asked again, since she didn't get her best friends attention the first time she said her name.

"Wha...?" Willow said, coming out of her thoughts. "Buffy!" she said, noticing the petite blonde watching her intently. "What's up?" she asked.

"Nothing... I was just wondering... why did you pick me... ?" Buffy asked.

"Pick you?" Willow questioned, not quite getting what her friend meant. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed that Anya had walked into the room, and positioned herself on the bed. Tara, however, had chosen to stay out on the balcony, and was at present lighting up another cigarette.

"Yeah... during the game" Buffy asked again.

"Oh! That!" Willow said, finally seeing light. She saw that Buffy was watching her intently, and said "Well, because I didn't know anyone else! I mean, it would look crazy if I kissed any of the other girls, since I barely know them!"

"Aah! That's why! Oh that's cool then," Buffy said, visibly relieved.

"Why do you ask?" Willow asked.

"Well, I dunno... .just wanted to make sure you weren't falling for me or anything!" Buffy grinned. "Not that that wouldn't be cool" she quickly added. "I mean I'd be flattered... it's just that see, I don't like girls that way... but if you do, that's great... it's just..."

"Don't worry Buff" Willow smiled. "I don't have a thing for you!"

"Great then!" Buffy said, and walked back to settle herself down on the bed again.

Tara had heard the whole conversation, from her place out on the balcony. Now she felt relief wash over her. "She doesn't have a thing for Buffy" she thought, and let out a sigh. Then she stopped. "So what if she doesn't have a thing for Buffy? Big deal, Willow's straight... and so am I. Yeah I'm straight for sure, then why am I relieved that Willow doesn't have a thing for Buffy... ?"

Tara was in her own world, and had her 'thinking face' on. That's the look that Willow saw when she walked out to join the blonde on the balcony.

"Penny for your thoughts," she said, bringing Tara out of her trance.

"What?" Tara said, only then noticing the girl standing before her.

"What were you thinking about?" Willow asked, looking at Tara's blue eyes. "Is it just me, or do they look a bit troubled?" she wondered to herself.

"Nothing... just work and stuff" Tara answered, as her eyes met Willow's gaze, and held it. For a second blue stared into green, before Tara bought her cigarette to her lips and took a drag. It was the last puff of that cigarette, and Tara stubbed it out, before taking another one out of the pack and lighting it.

"Why're you smoking so much?" Willow asked. She knew that this was the third cigarette that Tara was smoking, in less than 15 minutes.

"Dunno, just feel like," Tara answered, pulling on the new cigarette. The truth be told, she knew that she only chain smoked when something was bothering her. Now she knew that something was nagging her... but she didn't quite know exactly WHAT was bothering her!

"I'll go get myself a drink" Willow said, and sauntered off towards the kitchen. Tara watched her departing figure, until she turned out of the bedroom, and continued smoking. Willow was back a moment later, with a glass of orange juice in her hand.

They stood there in silence for a few moments, and Willow watched as another cigarette came to an end. Again she watched as Tara lit up another, and rather than being irritated about what the girl was doing to herself, Willow found that she was concerned about the girls behavior. "Tara?" she asked, drawing the other girl's attention to her.

"Yeah?" Tara questioned, looking at Willow with her eyebrows slightly raised.

"Is everything ok?" Willow asked, her voice full of concern.

Tara was genuinely touched by the shorter girls concern, and managed to smile as she said "Yeah, don't worry."

Willow nodded her head, and then asked, "What made you start?"

Tara regarded her silently for a minute, before saying "I just had a bit of a hard time for a while. The next thing I knew, I'd bought myself a pack of cigarettes, and that's how it all started. I know that doesn't justify the habit, but yeah, that's how it all began for me" she said, not offering any further explanation.

Willow on her part didn't press. She was about to ask Tara about what she thought about the game the next day, when her cell phone rang. Tara watched as Willow looked at the number, and could have sworn she heard the redhead sigh.

"Hello?" Willow said, answering the call. "Hey Oz... yeah I'm at a friends house tonight... no its just a bunch of girls... Tara... no you don't know her... she plays handball with Buffy... yeah Buffy's here... how was the show? ... Ok that's good... when'll you be back in Sunnydale? ... that long?... yeah I understand..."

Tara was listening to every word, even as she pretended to look at the stars in the sky. "Where have I seen that guy???" she wondered, frustrated that she couldn't quite place Oz.

A few moments later Willow hung up with a "yeah, I'll talk to you later. Bye" and replaced her phone in her pocket. Tara watched her, and asked, "So how did you meet Oz?"

"At the Bronze" Willow said, looking up. "Oz plays for a band..."

"Ooh yeah! That's where I know him from!" Tara exclaimed, cutting Willow off. "Sorry" she said, calming down. "It's just that I've been wondering where I'd seen him before ever since I saw his picture at your dorm. He plays the lead guitar for 'Vampire Bite', right?".

Willow nodded her head, smiling slightly at Tara's earlier enthusiasm. It was the first time she'd ever seen the girl show any kind of excitement, and liked it. "So you were telling me about how you met him... ?" Tara reminded her.

"Yeah... he was playing there with the band about... um... a little less than two years ago, and Buffy, Xander and me were there hanging. We watched the band play, and you know, Oz is pretty good" Willow said.

Tara nodded her head, and Willow continued "Anyway, after the gig he walked up to me at the bar and started talking. Later he bought me a drink, and we danced. There was something cool about the guy that everyone was watching choosing to be by your side you know? Anyway, about a little over a month later we were going steady".

"Hmm..." Tara said. "So where is he now?"

"'Vampire Bite' is touring with Marilyn Manson, opening for him actually. So Oz has been gone for the past 2 months. He just said that he'd be back in 20 days, when the tour wraps up" Willow said.

"So it's going well for him then?" Tara questioned.

"Yeah" Willow nodded. "Music is Oz's life, so I'm glad that it's working out for him. He just told me that Universal saw them at their gig tonight, and they're gonna talk about cutting an album next week".

"Wow! Then you might even have a rock star boyfriend" Tara said, smiling slightly, watching for Willow's reaction.

"Yeah..." Willow said, drifting off. She didn't sound as excited as Tara had expected.

"We interviewed them once, at the station" Tara said. "I even met Oz, for a few minutes. I think he had... um... pink hair back then... and an eyebrow piercing" she said, her brow furrowed as she thought back.

Willow watched her and thought, "Ooh she looks so cute when she does that!" When she saw that Tara was once again looking at her, she said "Yeah, Oz likes messing around with his hair. I keep telling him that he's gonna go bald soon if he keeps doing that" she grinned.

Tara laughed lightly at the remark. She lit up her fifth cigarette, and Willow just looked at her and sighed. "So what do you think your chances are for tomorrow's game?" she asked.

Tara thought for a second, before saying "Well, like Coach Gile's said, King's have been champs for the past 9 years. A lot of them have been playing the tournament since the start of their college life, and winning the tournament is a habit for them. Also many of them are in their finals year, and they're not gonna wanna go out on a losing note. I know some of the players, since I've played State and Nationals with them. I was also captain of the Sunnydale side at a tournament about 5 months ago, so I know their game. None of them are individually great, they're more of a team effort than anything else. King's always has a game plan. They go into the match 101% prepared. But I'm thinking that if we stick to our 'block their main shooter', or at least 'one of their main shooters' plan, we should have a fairly good chance at taking them... And now you look completely bored!"

'No no" Willow giggled, "I was just listening to what you were saying..."

"Hey Tara" they heard Cordelia call out. "Come look at who's on TV!"

Tara quickly stubbed out her cigarette, and walked into her bedroom, followed by Willow. "Faith!" Cordelia exclaimed, pointing towards the screen and then looking at Tara.

Willow also looked, as they showed a dark haired, very attractive girl in action on the handball court. Seconds later they cut to a shot of Tara scoring a goal, and Willow realized they were watching the news cover the tournament. "Who's Faith?" Buffy asked aloud.

"Faith's a very good handball player. She plays for Columbus, who're in the other semi's, and are likely to make it to the finals" Emily said.

"She's also the girl who so totally hit on Tara at the last Nationals we played!" Anya added, grinning from ear to ear.

"She did NOT hit on me" Tara said. "She was hitting on Steve!"

"That's not how I remember it!" Anya said. "Yeah, she was flirting with Steve, but who was she leaning into ALL the time? Who's lap did she lay her head on when she collapsed near the sidelines after our games. Who did she insist on traveling with from the hotel to the stadium? Who..."

"Yeah yeah, I get it!" Tara said, cutting her off.

"Wait, I'm not done!" Anya said, obviously enjoying this. "Yeah everyone thought it was Steve that she wanted, but if I remember correctly, and I'm sure I do, on the way back to Sunnydale, the last thing she told you was 'Well, I'll miss hanging with you everyday. If anyone asks me if I know Tara I'm gonna say yeah, she's my girlfriend'. Then she watched for your reaction for a minute, and when you didn't react she said 'Nah, I'm kidding. It's Steve that I'm really interested in'!"

Everyone watched as Tara blushed, and said "Well, that's bygones. Faith is a nice girl, and she's a good friend" she said, with a tone of finality in her voice that no one challenged. "Ok now, " Tara said, changing the subject "We should get to bed. Big match tomorrow".

Everyone stood up, taking the same places they had the night before. Willow once again found herself lying next to Tara, with one thought racing continuously racing through her head.

"I'm not actually jealous... right?????" she wondered, closing her eyes, and trying to figure it all out.

Continue to The Game of Love Chapter Twenty

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