Return to The Game of Love Chapter Seventy-One

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!

"Crap!" Tara muttered under her breath, when she walked out of her bathroom clad in her bathrobe and noticed that it was already 4:12 p.m. Realizing that she needed to be dressed in 15 minutes at the most, Tara rushed into her walk in closet, and starting poking through her clothes. 'What should I wear, what should I wear?' she wondered, as she kept sifting through hanger after hanger. 'Hmm, I need something that's concert casual, and will still catch Willow's attention...' Tara abruptly stopped her movements at that thought. 'Wait, where did that idea come from?' Shrugging, she admitted to herself 'Aah, who am I trying to kid?! Of course I want to grab Willow's attention!' and with that thought she started rummaging through her clothes again.

Exactly 12 minutes and 43 seconds later Tara, following the sound of her mother and Willow's voices, walked into the formal living room. Willow's back was to the door, but Susanna noticed her daughter walk in and smiled. Following Susanna's gaze Willow turned around, and almost crushed the can of Red Bull in her hand as she caught sight of the blonde. Tara was standing there in a pair of fashionably ripped faded blue jeans, that not only showed off glimpses of her legs but also seemed to cling to all her curves like a second skin, and a plain baby blue cut sleeved shirt that had a white tick just below the right shoulder, telling you what make it was. With her hair tied back in a high pony, Tara had paired the outfit with a pain of sneakers whose color matched the blue of her shirt, and her only accessory was a bulky looking watch, that Willow noticed she wore on her right hand. Since the shirts sleeves were tiny, the tattoo on Tara's right arm was visible in all its glory, and Willow only just managed to remind herself to keep breathing.

Tara in turn seemed to have been frozen to the ground, and she tried to discreetly check out the seated Willow, whom she hadn't realized was doing the same to her. The redhead had chosen to team up a pair of dark olive green cargo pants with a cross backed black singlet. Tara's mind picked up on the fact that the cross back ended up showing a lot of back with tiny little freckles, and how Tara stopped herself from drooling was a question she was going to ask herself for years to come! Willow had straightened her shoulder length hair, and wore a pair of Black converse shoes on her feet, along with a long black wristband on her left wrist.

Susanna wasn't oblivious to what was going on, and smirked slightly at what was going on before her eyes. 'I don't think I've ever seen two people who were more clueless' she thought, rolling her eyes to herself. When the girls had stayed that way for a good 10 seconds Susanna decided it was time to bring them out of their reverie. Clearing her throat, she focused her attention on a now blushing Tara and said "I've never really understood ripped jeans! Why pay for something that you can just do to a pair of old jeans yourself?"

Willow, who'd been feeling like a child who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, turned her attention back to Susanna, even as Tara shook her head and said "Umm, Mom, you bought me these, remember?"

A bulb seemed to go off in Susanna's head "Oh yeah, I did, didn't I? And they look so lovely! Don't you think so Willow?"

'Lovely?' Willow thought. 'I could come up with better hot, sexy, delicious...' So lost was she in her own mental chit chat, that she forgot to respond to Susanna. "Willow?" the older blonde repeated, getting Willow's attention. "Huh? Yeah...yeah they really look great!" the redhead finally responded!

"Thanks" Tara said, smiling shyly. "Umm, what were you guys doing?" she asked, walking further into the living room.

"Willow was building up her energy for the concert with a can of Red Bull, and I'm waiting for my producers to show up" Susanna responded. "Are you ready to leave?"

"Yup, if Willow is" Tara responded, looking over at the redhead. "I'm ready!" Willow said, standing up with the energy drink still in her hand. "I'll finish this off in the car" she stated.

Tara nodded. "Ok Mom, we're off. Call me if you need me". Walking up to her mother leaned down slightly and kissed her on the cheek. "Love you" she said, standing upright again.

"I love you too sweetie" Susanna smiled, giving Tara a gentle push towards the waiting Willow. Looking over to the redhead she said "You two have a good time ok?"

"Thanks Susanna" Willow replied, as Tara nodded. "We will Ma. Bye"

Susanna watched the two girls walk out the door and thought 'God, please give those two a clue!'

Willow buckled up in the passenger's seat as Tara put the car into gear and proceeded to drive out of the grounds of her mother's house. "So how's your day been?" Tara asked as she headed out of the gates, stopping to make sure that they closed properly.

"Oh it's been good" the redhead responded, as Tara watched the gates in the rearview mirror. "I slept in after last night and when I woke and you weren't here, your mother let me help her plan the next show that she's filming". Satisfied that the gates had shut properly, Tara put the car back into gear and began to drive towards the stadium. "Yeah, she told me that" Tara said, quickly glancing in Willow's direction and smiling. "Did you like the sound of the show?"

Willow nodded "Uh huh. I think it'll be interesting. I know I'll definitely be watching it!" Grinning she asked Tara "What about you? Good day?"

"Yup, yup" Tara said, stopping at a red light, and turning to look at Willow. "Everything's going according to plan. The concert is sold out, and all of our sponsors have come through as well. The quality of sound is as good as it can get, so it looks like we're all set to let Sunnydale in on some of the fun that L.A's having!" The lights changed to green and Tara took off again. The two continued to make small talk and giggle together as they made their way to the stadium, discussing everything from that week's Billboard charts to the new story on Britney Spears changing her son's diapers on the floor of a clothes store.

Finally, with the car clock reading 4:54, Tara pulled into the private car park at the stadium. Willow unbuckled herself and was about to open the car door when she dropped her cell phone, so she bent down to pick it up. Sitting back up she was about to open her door when it was pulled open. Surprised, Willow looked up to see Tara holding her door open for her, making a swooping gesture with her hand. "After you milady!" Tara grinned, and Willow returned her grin as she got out of the car. "Oh, how kind of you Sir Knight...I mean, Lady Knight!" she laughed, prompting a giggle from Tara, who shut the car door and activated it's central locking, before putting the key's into her sling bag.

Tara led the way to the backstage entrance, where she was recognized by the security men. "Hey Tara" one of them said, winking at the blonde. This wasn't missed by Willow, who noticed that the man was young and not bad looking at all. 'Is he flirting with my Tara???' she wondered, and without realizing it she took a step closer to the blonde. "Hey Vikram" Tara smiled back, as he opened the door for her and looked questioningly at the redhead. "She's with me" Tara said, to which the security men nodded, and let the two in.

Walking down the stairs the two made it backstage, and Willow just stopped in her tracks. She had never been backstage at a concert again, so this was a completely new experience for her. Somehow it was even busier than she'd ever anticipated. There were people all over the place, shouting out to each other, even as she could hear someone saying something about a "sound check" over the microphone. She moved aside, giving two men carrying a huge speaker space to move. "Thanks" one of them said to her as they passed by. "No problem" Willow responded.

Tara let the redhead just take everything in for a few seconds, before asking "You ok?" Willow nodded, "Yeah, this is really cool. Thanks again for bringing me".

"Don't worry about it. I like that you're here" Tara said, without looking at Willow. 'Whoa! Did she just say that she liked that I was here???' Willow wondered. 'She did! Yay! She likes that I'm here!!! Go me!'

"So..." Tara said, looking back at her. "Shall we?" Willow nodded, as Tara took off in one direction, but ended up bumping into Tara's back when the blonde stopped abruptly. "I almost forgot..." Tara said, turning back to the redhead and fishing in her sling bag. After digging in her bag for a few seconds, Tara took out a security pass, and handed it to Willow. Looking down Willow saw that it was an 'All Access' pass. She watched as Tara took another one out of her bag and put it around her neck, and did the same. "Now you won't have any problems" Tara smiled, and took off again. Willow followed her and they walked over to a closed door that had a sign stating 'Dressing Room - Michelle Branch'. Tara knocked on the door, and Willow heard a voice she'd only heard on TV before say "Come in", before the two girls walked into the room.

A little under an hour later, Willow found herself standing just beyond the barricades that divided the stage from the concert audience. The redhead realized that she was getting envious looks from some of the people who were in the front row, and she could tell that they were wondering why she got to stand closer to the stage while they were being pushed from the back by people who were trying to get closer to the stage! Willow shook her head, still getting over the past 50 minutes, that were spent in Michelle Branch's dressing room. Willow had made sure not to gush about how big a fan she was of the singer, since she didn't want to seem like a suck up! Instead, after Tara had hugged the singer hello and introduced the two to each other before leaving to make sure that everything was in place, the two girls had sat around making fun conversation as Michelle's hair and make up people worked on her. Willow couldn't believe how cool and easy to talk to the singer was, and thoroughly enjoyed talking to her. The only fan-like thing that Willow did was to take an autograph for Buffy and Dawn, and that was only because they'd asked her to!

Now here she was, ready for the concert to start. Tara had brought her here and then disappeared again. Willow was just wondering where she was when the lights went out and the crowd screamed in anticipation. The redhead felt the excitement in the air, and was about to look at the stage when she caught sight of Tara standing a little further away to her right, talking into a walkie-talkie. She said something and nodded her head before looking towards Willow. When she saw the redhead looking at her she smiled and walked her way. "Hey" she said, speaking louder so Willow could hear her over the sound the audience was making. "Hey!" Willow smiled back, and then said something that Tara couldn't hear.

"What?" the blonde said, and realizing that she hadn't heard her, Willow leaned in closer and put her mouth near Tara's ear. "I asked if everything was set?"

Tara almost fainted when she felt Willow's breath on her ear. When the redhead pulled back she just managed to nod her head, taking in Willow's scent. 'Mmm, she smells like musk and wood...and Willow' Tara swooned, just as the first strum of a guitar was heard. She tore her gaze away from the redhead and concentrated on the stage, which was still pit black. A drum beat had joined the guitar, and from the sounds of it the musician's were just jamming to the cheers of the crowd. All of a sudden there was silence...and then a voice sang "I wanted to be like you, I wanted everything. So I tried to be like you, and I got swept away."

The crowd went crazy at the words, Willow watched as all of a sudden a spotlight went on and there she was - Michelle Branch! The music started playing again, and the lights went on everywhere, illuminating the stage as Michelle continued the song, walking around the stage, acknowledging the crowd. When she got to the chorus, the audience joined in "If you want to, I can save you, I can take you away from here. So lonely inside, so busy out there, and all you wanted was somebody who cares." At this point she was standing right above Willow and Tara in the middle of the stage, and looking down she smiled at the two before walking to the far end of the stage.

Willow was having a gala time, jumping along to the music. Tara kept sneaking glances at her, watching her red hair move as she moved with the beat, and sang along with the chorus. 'I love her' she thought quietly, smiling softly at the sight, before turning her attention back to the concert. By the time Michelle got to the end, Willow had sweat running down her body. "Please can you tell me, so I can finally see, where you go when you're gone" Michelle finished, and the crowd erupted again. Tara looked at Willow again and stopped dead when she saw the sweat on the redhead's neck. 'Oh my God! How am I going to survive this evening???' she wondered, getting lusty thoughts at the sight of a sweaty Willow.

Michelle started to speak and welcome the audience to her show, as Willow turned to Tara. "That was awesome!" she exclaimed. Tara grinned and nodded and then listened to what Michelle was saying "We're all here to have a good time right?" The crowd cheered and the singer continued "Well, we're also live on radio right now, so how about you guys make some noise and show the world that you're having a good time?" Willow joined the crowd as they yelled out their approval of what she said. "Ok" Michelle continued "Up next I'm gonna be singing one of my all-time favourite Jennifer Paige songs, which I covered. This is Stranded" she ended, as her guitarist played the first notes of the song and she started to sing "You know it only breaks my heart..."

Willow and Tara were standing there enjoying the song when a voice came out of the walkie-talkie that Tara had fixed in the loop of her jeans. "Yeah" she said, putting it to her mouth. "There's a problem with one of the microphones" a voice said. "I'll be right there" Tara replied, and turned to look at Willow, "I'll be back ok? You have a good time" she said, giving Willow a lopsided smile which the redhead returned, before the blonde started to walk away. "Stranded, stranded... So baby come back to me..." Michelle sang, as Willow turned her attention back to her, smiling to herself at the irony of the words right then.

A few minutes later Michelle finished the song, and proceeded to talk to the crowd again, this time introducing her band. Willow looked around for Tara, but couldn't spot the blonde anywhere. Looking back up at the stage, she listened to the singer saying that for her next two songs she had a special guest who would be joining her on stage, and all of a sudden Carlos Santana was walking towards Michelle with his guitar hanging around his neck. The two stars hugged as the drummer said "One, two, three, four..." and Santana started to play the opening of "Game of Love". They were in the second verse when Tara came up next to Willow. "Hey" she said, gently touching Willow's arm so that the redhead knew she was back. "Everything ok?" Willow asked.

This time it was Tara's turn to lean in close to Willow's ear, and the redhead felt like everything was moving in slow motion as she watched the blonde's lips move closer to her. 'Is she gonna kiss me???' Willow wondered for a split second, before she heard Tara say something about a problem with the audio system, and how she didn't want to miss this set. The redhead just managed to pay attention, as she got over the disappointment of not getting kissed. "...You roll me, control me, console me...Please hold me...You guide me, divide me...Into me..." Michelle sang as Tara pulled back and turned towards the stage. "So please tell me why don't you come around no more?" Tara joined in and started to sing along, "Cause right now I'm dying outside the door of your loving store...It just takes a little bit of this, a little bit of that, it started with a kiss, now we're up to bat. A little bit of laughs, a little bit of pain, I'm telling you my babe, it's all in the game of love..."

It took a lot of will power for Willow to turn away, because right now she was getting a very good look at Tara's neck, thanks to the fact that the blonde had her hair up in a pony and she was looking up at the stage. 'I think I'm getting vampirish urges' the redhead thought, listening as Santana played the last notes of the song, and the crowd burst into applause again. The guitar legend glanced down at that moment, and he gave Tara a smile of recognition as he ended the song, before tossing his pluck towards her. Tara deftly caught the pluck with her right hand, and Willow watched as she mouthed a 'Thank you' to the guitarist, before she turned to look at the redhead.

"Here" she said, holding out the pluck for Willow to take. "Huh?" the redhead said, glancing down at the blonde's outstretched hand and then back to her face. "It's for you" Tara stated simply. "But he gave it to you" Willow argued, not wanting to take something that special from the blonde. 'I know her mother's famous and stuff, but Carlos Santana can't be giving her his guitar pluck in the idle of a concert everyday!' she thought. "I want you to have it" Tara shrugged. "But..." Willow started to argue, but Tara cut her off. "Please...I want you to remember this concert, and this'll help you" the blonde said, and seeing the look on her face Willow knew she'd be hurt of Willow didn't take it. "Thank you" she said, reaching out and taking the pluck from Tara's hand.

Tara smiled and was turning to look away when Willow said "And Tara?" "Hmm?" Tara asked, looking at the redhead. "I wasn't gonna forget this concert anyway" she said, looking at the blonde in the eye for a few seconds before turning away.

Tara stood there stunned for a moment, before her mind told her to look away, even as she wondered 'Did she just flirt??? Oh my God, did Willow just flirt with me???' Her mind still buzzing with that thought, she tuned into the music, where Michelle was singing "Cause at least I feel alive, I never faced so many emotional days, but my life is good... I'm feeling you...I'm feeling you"

'Ok, she might like me....' Tara thought, her mind not willing to give up the subject. 'Mom's right...I do need to figure this out. Otherwise I won't be able to get over it. If she is interested, then yay! And if she's not, well, I can move on...' Sneaking a glance at the redhead, Tara stood still as she watched Willow quickly look away "Oh my God, was she just looking at me??? Why can't this be easy???' Tara wondered.

In the meantime, Willow was panicking 'Did she catch me watching her? Now she probably thinks that I'm some kind of stalker person! Wait, she brought me here, so she can't think that...but she probably thinks I'm a weird person who stares...yeah, I'm the weird redhead with the staring problem! Oh God...'

The two girls were brought out of their thoughts as the audience started clapping again, and they realized the song was over. They clapped again as Michelle thanked Santana, who hugged her, took a bow and walked off the stage, waving to the crowd. "Ok, I better get going..." Tara started, when Michelle started talking again, "This next song is a favourite of one of my friends in the audience today" she said, looking pointedly at Tara, "So I'm playing this especially for her..." The singer winked at the blonde as the keyboardist opened the song and she began to sing "Been running from these feelings for so long, telling my heart I didn't need you...Pretending I was better off alone, but I know it's just a lie..."

Tara was glad there wasn't much light where they were, because she had a blush all over her face. This was the song that reminded her of Willow, and the fact that the redhead was standing right next to her while the song played was making her feel all funny inside. "But I need to be next to you oh I, oh I...I need to share every breath with you oh I, oh I...I need to know I can see your smile each morning, look into your eyes each night...For the rest of my life...Here with you near with you, oh, I need to be next to you..."

Willow could swear that Tara looked a little pink. 'Must be the heat' Willow thought, as she followed the words of the song and was almost amused by how much they sounded like what she was feeling right now. "Without you there is nothing in this life...That would make my life worth living for. I can't bear the thought of you not there...I can't fight what I feel anymore"

'...which is why I need to do something about this pronto!' Tara thought. She felt something touch her hand, and looking down noticed that Willow's hand was brushing against hers. She contemplated moving away for a second, but decided against it. It felt...'right' she thought, to be touching the redhead.

'Ok, she hasn't moved her hand away' Willow thought. The redhead had taken what she considered to be a very brave step and had moved slightly to her right so that her right hand was now brushing the blondes left one. 'Hold her hand!!!' one part of her brain screamed, even as the other argued back, 'Baby steps! This is a very bold move already, so back off!!' 'Ok ok' the first part said, letting it go for now.

The two girls just let themselves enjoy the music with their hands touching, both acting like they hadn't even noticed the connection. They were like that for a few minutes, and just when Michelle was getting to the end of the song Tara's walkie-talkie went off again. She moved to grab it off her waist and the move made her lose contact with Willow's hand. 'Damn' Willow thought, thinking that maybe she should have caught the blondes hand after all!

"I gotta go back in" Tara said, putting the walkie-talkie back down. Looking back up she gave Michelle a smile and a thumbs-up before smiling at Willow and walking backstage again. Willow watched her until she had disappeared, and looked back at the stage in time to see Michelle climb onto a crane like thing that carried her to the midst of the audience and took her low enough to touch their outstretched hands. "This next one is for all of you'll" Michelle screamed, as the music started to play again. "Turn it inside out so I can see, the part of you that's drifting over me..."

The audience went wild when they realized what song Michelle had started, and went even crazier when she hopped off the crane into the crowd, and was immediately surrounded by her body guards. Willow joined in the excitement, and watched Michelle randomly high five people on one of the giant screens. Someone handed Michelle a teddy bear, which accepted with a smile as she continued singing and weaving through the pack of fans. She cheered along with everyone else when Michelle got back onto the crane and was carried onto the stage again as she finished singing the song. For the next 30 minutes Willow thoroughly enjoyed herself, looking around occasionally to see if she could spot Tara, but with no luck.

She was listening to Michelle sing 'It's You' with only her own guitar playing to accompany her voice when she caught sight of Tara standing at left of the stage, talking into her walkie-talkie as she watched Michelle sit on the stool playing her guitar. "If tomorrow never comes, I would want just one wish...To kiss your quiet mouth, and trace the steps with my finger tips. And it's you...The light changes when you're in the room..."

Willow took full advantage of the fact that Tara didn't know that she was being watched, and stared at the blonde. Some of her hair had come lose, and Willow had the urge to walk up to her and tuck the loose strands behind her ear. 'I love you' she thought, 'And hopefully, I'll be telling you that aloud soon...'

"...It's you" Michelle ended quietly, and smiled slowly at the applause. Willow watched as Tara put the walkie-talkie down again and looked her way. This time Willow didn't bother looking away, and smiled when blue eyes looked into her own. Tara slowly returned the smile and started to walk towards her. "Hi" the blonde said when she got to the redhead. "Hi" Willow smiled back, and the two just started at each other for a moment, until Michelle's voice broke the moment.

"Ok, this is my last song for tonight. Thank you all for coming! L.A's been a great audience!" This was greeted by cheers from the crowd, "And I hope to be back here to play again soon!" the singer finished as the music started to play for the last time that night. "No, don't just walk away, pretending everything's okay and you don't care about me. And I know it's just no us, when all your lies become your truths and I don't care yeah, yeah, yeah..." She walked to one end of the stage and took off the wrist band she had on and threw it to the crowd there. "Could you look me in the eye, and tell me that you're happy now... Would you tell it to my face or have I been erased, are you happy now?" she sang.

Four minutes the concert was over, and Michelle was taking her last bows. "Goodnight L.A" she screamed. "God bless" she said, flashing the victory sign before walking off the stage.

"Wow!" Willow said, turning to Tara. "That was great!"

Tara grinned, "I'm glad you had a good time". A voice erupted from her walkie-talkie again, and she put it to her mouth and said "Yeah, I'll be right there". Putting it down she looked at Willow and said "Hey, since the shows over, do you wanna just come back stage with me now? I just need to make sure that everything's been recorded properly, the tapes are marked, and sent off to Sunnydale immediately. Then we can head off to the after party."

Willow shrugged and smiled "Sure, let's go!", before waking side by side with the blonde to the back. 15 minutes they were done and walking back to Tara's car. "The party's probably already started" Tara was saying. "People who don't come to the concert but go to the after party usually get there early and start drinking before most people are even there" she laughed, getting to the passenger's side and opening the door for Willow. "Milady" she smirked, once again making a swooping gesture with her hand.

"You're too kind" Willow giggled, getting into the car before Tara shut the door and crossed to her side of the car. Less than 10 minutes later Tara pulled her car into a swanky looking hotel, where she handed the car keys to a valet and walked with Willow into the lobby. "The party's in a suite" she explained, as they walked to a private elevator and got it. When they got into the elevator Willow noticed that there were only 3 buttons to pick from, and Tara pressed the one that said 'T'.

'Ok we're alone in an elevator' Tara thought, as they doors closed. 'Lots could happen in an elevator...Ok stop Tara, don't let your mind go there!' She said a silent prayer of thanks when there was a soft 'Bing!' and the doors opened. She let Willow get out and followed her. The floor was quiet and there was only one door with two burly men standing outside. Seeing the passes around the girls' necks they let them right through, and were rewarded with a smile from the women.

The minute the door opened the silence was replaced with...'Noise!' Willow thought. She'd been to frat parties, and thought those were noisy, but this was a whole different kind of noise. People seemed to be making out in various corners, someone was already throwing up into a wide brimmed flower vase, others were socializing with drinks and cigarettes in their hands...and this was only the first room they'd walked into.

Tara saw Willow's wide eyed expression and couldn't help but laugh as she said "Welcome to an after party!"

Continue to The Game of Love Chapter Seventy-Three

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