Return to The Game of Love Chapter Eighty

The Game of Love

Author: Shai
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Unfortunately neither Tara nor Willow are mine. Neither's anyone else in this fic for that matter!

Willow walked into the handball area at a quarter past 1, and it didn't take her long to spot Tara. She stood rooted to the spot as her eyes drank in the sight of the sweat covered blonde chasing after Zak at breakneck speed. The tall blonde boy was dribbling the handball as he himself ran towards a goal that was being fiercely guarded by an alert-looking Anya. Tara managed to catch up with Zak at the 9 meter line, and after beating him to the penalty mark by half a second, she turned on the 6 so her back was to her keeper, and jumped with her arms straight up in the air. Willow realized that Tara had correctly judged where Zak would be attempting his lay-up from, because she'd leapt up right in front of him, forcing him to alter his angle at the last minute. As it turned out, he released the ball, with considerably less force than he could have, at an angle that was obviously not his first choice, and Anya managed to split in time to put her foot between the ball and the back of her own net.

"Yeah!" Tara yelled out in delight, and pumped her fist before turning around to go high-five Anya, who was back on her feet. The move had prompted applause from Coach Giles, and both women looked obviously pleased with themselves. Zak waited for Tara to get out of the keeper's area, and playfully pretended to strangle her out of mock-frustration. Willow couldn't understand how Tara looked more gorgeous every time she saw her, but she certainly wasn't complaining. The blonde was wearing a pair of tiny but well-fitting black shorts and a sleeveless red jersey that said her name at the back in gold lettering. Willow was unable to make out the emblem on the front of the jersey, in part because it was hard to tell from a distance, but mainly because the emblem was right over the left side of Tara's chest, which brought Willow's attention to different parts of the blonde's anatomy. Realizing where she was looking was enough to snap Willow out of it, and after looking around guiltily to make sure no one had caught her perving, the redhead made her way to a row of bleachers, muttering under her breath, "Oh yeah, definitely gay."

For the next thirty minutes Willow perved and stared in peace, marveling at the sweat glistening on Tara's arms every time she raised her arm to shoot, the way her thigh muscles flexed as she ran, how her ponytail swished this way and that as she ran...The visuals left the redhead squirming in her seat, and she congratulated herself on remembering to wear panty liner that day. Willow also noticed that Tara would glance in the general direction of the bleachers every so often, slightly squinting her eyes as she tried to look beyond the brightness of the court into the surrounding darkness. The redhead knew that the blonde was trying to seek her out, and was also sure Tara had no idea if she was even there yet. The fact that she was looking though, was enough for Willow. She was staring at Tara, when suddenly out of nowhere a thought hit crossed her mind : What would Tara do if it was just her and Willow out there on the court, and Willow pushed her up to the goal-post and lowered her head to run her tongue along Tara's sweaty neck? The redhead's throat went dry at her own lust-filled daydream as she imagined what it would be like to taste Tara's skin, and Willow was sure that she'd die and go straight to heaven after the bliss of that opportunity.

Willow continued to follow Tara with her eyes, and knew without a hint of doubt that she wanted the blonde. She'd spoken briefly to Xander the previous night, and he'd told her that Tara seemed supremely happy before leaving for work earlier in the afternoon. That's when Willow had really allowed herself to believe, really believe, for the first time that maybe what she was feeling wasn't one-way traffic after all. All through the first hour of the guest-lecture, the redhead had sat there wondering what Tara was up to, and when she could no longer stop herself she gave in and sent the blonde a text message. The redhead wouldn't have cared if the man was revealing the secrets of the universe as all her attention was focused on the back-and-forth texts between Tara and herself, and when the blonde had messaged saying she was enjoying the text-chat with Willow, a thousand-watt smile lit up the redhead's face. Even the curious looks she was getting from her fellow classmates wasn't enough to wipe the grin from Willow's lips, and that was probably why the lecturer had asked Willow her views on the new trend of eco-friendly architecture. Luckily for Willow, she'd made it a point to read up enough on the Frank O. Gehry company's preferred styles of construction to have a fair idea of what he wanted to hear! The lecturer had looked surprised at her answer, and gave her a slight nod before continuing to drone on, leaving Willow to once again lose herself in Tara-thoughts.

Willow had lain in bed at night, and had promised herself that she would find a way to tell Tara how she felt. And she'd do it before she spontaneously combusted from the mental exertion of going back and forth in her mind about how Tara felt about her! Willow's quickening pulse at the mere mention of Tara's name had clued her in to the fact that she needed to do it quickly, because it was evident that the more she got to know Tara, the more she liked her. She'd resolved that if she was going to get her heart broken, then it was best if it were to happen before she discovered even more lovable-traits in the woman.

Willow heard the final buzzer go off, brining the practice game to an end, and saw Coach Giles gather the girls around him. She continued watching Tara, who in turn was intently following the coach's critique of that day's session. The redhead's thoughts wandered again, but this time she was wondering how you broached the subject of liking a girl, when you weren't even sure if the girl liked girls. She half-frowned at the complicated mess better known as her thoughts, but realized that somewhere they did make sense. This wasn't going to be like being rejected by any other guy. This was potentially being rejected by the first girl, and maybe the only girl, she'd ever liked. And if it was a bad rejection then not only could she lose Tara forever, but it would probably even affect her future interest in women.

She took a deep breath and tried to clear her mind, as Tara nodded and broke away from the group of girls, making her way over to a low ramp-like board that was lying on the court just beyond one of the goal posts. When the girl bent down to pick up the board, Willow allowed her gaze to linger on the perfect roundness of the blonde's bottom, and sighed with sheer longing. She watched Tara straighten and walk to the 6 meter line, and place the board just before it at an inner's normal position. The blonde beckoned Anya to stand guard at the goal, and then moved back to a few paces beyond the 9 meter line herself. Willow's interest was piqued as Tara called for the ball, and broke into a half-sprint towards Anya, dribbling the ball as she ran. On passing the 9 meter line, she grasped the ball in her right hand, and started her lay-up. Willow counted the first two steps, and saw Tara land her left foot squarely on the board with her third step. The redhead heard the board squeak and watched it depress under Tara's weight, only then realizing that it was a spring board. She watched in absolute fascination as Tara's bent left knee started to straighten while her right arm rose above her head, and for a moment it looked like Tara was flying forwards through the air with her arm poised to shoot. Less than 5 steps ahead of her, Anya took a step forward from the goal line and flung herself up in the air, spreading her arms and legs wide as she used her full body to try and block Tara's angles. The keeper's attempt was futile, since Tara held onto the ball till the last possible second, and opted to go for a sharp angle that was completely out of Anya's reach. The ball zipped past the goalie and into the far left corner even before Anya's feet were back on the ground.

Willow watched Tara run past the keeper to fish the ball out of the net, and was able to read Anya's lips saying "Lucky shot", before she thumped Tara's back in silent praise on the perfect angle. Willow stared at the smiling blonde Goddess who had captured her heart without even having to try too hard, 'Yeah, she might reject me', she thought, 'but what if she doesn't?'

She allowed that thought to flourish and grow in the quiet of her mind as Tara showed the youngsters Anne and Reese how to use the springboard like she'd just demonstrated.

Tara finished her warm down a little after 2 o'clock, and walked over to her gym kit at the side of the court. Standing up, Willow grabbed her backpack and made her way over to the blonde, who looked up as the redhead emerged from the darkness. "There you are!" Tara smiled, and waved her right hand that was holding onto her cell phone at Willow. "I was just checking to see if you'd texted to cancel or something."

The redhead realized that she probably looked too happy to see Tara, but didn't care as she grinned and made her way up to the blonde, "Nope nope. Right here ma'am." She leaned into Tara and wrapped her arms around her, resting her hands on the back of an obviously damp jersey. Willow had to stop herself from sighing with pleasure when Tara's arms wrapped around her in return, and as always, she thought the hug was way too short when they pulled apart.

"Hey Red," she heard, and looked up to see Faith, Emily, Anya and Cordelia coming over. The brunette reached over to hug Willow, and murmured into her ear, "fancy seeing you here!" before pulling back.

"Hey guys" she smiled, and couldn't help but notice that she actually felt really relaxed around the women, despite Faith's obvious teasing. Still smiling, she addressed Anya, "I hear you forbade Xander from coming to practice today".

The shorter blonde smiled in good humour, "That's right. I like him now, but I'm sure how crazy I'd be about him if he was a 45 year old with a big fat beer gut, no job and more knowledge of handball than Human Resources" she winked.

All five women laughed at that, and then Cordelia asked Tara, "So, ready to get cracking on that long-overdue assignment of yours?"

A faint blush visibly spread across Tara's cheeks as she looked at Cordelia, which Willow thought was strange since it was such a simple question. She noticed that Faith and Emily had also noticed the blush, and all three women turned their gazes to the tall brunette, who looked completely innocent as she waited for Tara's answer. Willow looked back at the blonde to see her slowly blink her beautiful blue eyes, and finally nod at her friend.

"Good" Cordelia said, her tone still friendly, "I hope you manage to finish it today. You've already put it off long enough."

Willow was sure that she was missing something when she saw a hint of amusement pass over Tara's face, before Anya called her over to the goal to point something out. "I'll be right back" Tara said, looking at Willow before jogging over to where Anya was. The redhead nodded, and was engrossed in a conversation about the advantages of the springboard with the three other women when Tara and Anya returned. " basically, it helps you perfect your lay-up, and learn to hold your posture in the air" Emily finished. Willow looked to her right to see a still pink-looking Tara waiting for her to be done, "Ready to go?"

Green eyes couldn't help but dart to Anya to fathom the reason behind what from the looks of it might have been another round of blushing for Tara, but the goalie was just reaching down to pick up her kit. "Okay...but don't you want to shower first?" Willow asked.

Tara shook her head, "Nah, I'll just shower when I get home." Willow nodded, and after everyone said their goodbyes, she and Tara left for the latter's home while the other girl's headed to the showers. The blonde reached the stadium doors a step before Willow, and holding it open, she gestured for the redhead to pass. Willow smiled her thanks, and waited for Tara to join her before following her lead to the jeep.

"So," she said, getting into the passenger seat, "is this paper of yours really long overdue?"

Tara looked genuinely amused as she pushed the stick into gear, "Not really. Cordy just exaggerates!" Willow watched her right-hand work the gear, and her gaze fell on the pair of tanned legs just beyond. She quickly jerked her head so she was once again staring at the road before them, but Tara had caught the rushed movement. "You ok?" she asked, concerned.

"Yeah," Willow said, and brought up a hand to rub her right cheek, "I thought I felt a bug fly into me or something" she lied. "Anyway," she quickly changed the subject, "what's your paper on?"

"Whether or not substance abuse should be legalized in sport" Tara said.

"Isn't that kind of a no-brainer? It's cheating, right?" Willow asked.

"Mmm, not really. I mean yes, right now it's cheating," Tara said, slowing to a halt at a red-light and turning to look into green eyes, "but there are a lot of psychologists who believe that letting everyone use performance enhancing drugs would actually level the playing field."

Willow thought that over for a few seconds, "That's kind of interesting" she finally admitted. "What's your take on it?"

Tara glanced at the lights, which were still red, "Well, I think substance abuse makes things easier, which is contradictory to everything sport stands for. I mean, as an athlete, you train really hard," the light changed to green, and Tara pushed the car into gear, "and when you win, it's all that effort and hard work that's gone into the win that makes it all the more special. I think legalizing substance abuse would take away from the beauty and the overall experience of being an athlete." Quickly glancing at Willow, she saw the redhead nodding and listening, so she continued, "Of course, my paper has to be written from a psychologists point of view, so what my professor really wants to read about is my view on whether an athlete would think he had more of a chance of winning if his physical prowess was equal to that of his opponents."

"Do you?"

This time it was Tara's turn to think it over, "To an extent, yes. Mainly though, that's just a pre-match psychological boost. There is another extreme to that though. Um, I think that if an athlete goes into a match thinking that they're on a level playing field and he starts getting his butt kicked say, 10 minutes into the competition, then he'd probably lose hope a lot quicker. And at that moment, a lack of faith in yourself can be more psychologically damaging than anything else."

"Interesting..." Willow said, and sat back in her seat to think about what Tara had just said. They drove in amicable silence for a few minutes, and Willow couldn't help but sneak glances at Tara's gorgeous legs. She noticed a faint scar on the blonde's thigh, and before she could stop herself asked "How'd you get the scar on your thigh?"

'Ok, now she knows your were staring at her legs dummy!' she thought, panicking inside but maintaining a calm exterior as she waited for Tara's answer. The blonde looked down at her lap, and then looked at Willow as if studying her before focusing her attention back on the road, "I don't know really. Mom says I was climbing a tree as a kid and managed to cut myself pretty bad, but I honestly have no recollection of it." She glanced back at the topic of conversation, and then up at the road again.

"It looks kinda cool really" Willow said softly, as they neared Tara's house. The blonde just looked at her with a quirked eyebrow, and Willow felt the need to reassure, "No adds character" she shrugged. Tara didn't say anything, but as Willow studied her profile she saw the blonde smile, and the redhead gave herself an invisible pat on the back. A good one minute later Tara said quietly, eyes still looking straight ahead, "With the amount of sport I've played, I have a lot more scars than just that one..." For the first time in a long time, Willow Rosenberg couldn't think of anything to say. And it felt good. She glanced over at Tara, and there it was again...a hint of a blush. 'I definitely can't be reading this all wrong' Willow thought.

A couple of seconds later they were parking outside Tara's building, and the blonde asked, "What will you be reading while I write my masterpiece?" She reached into the jeep to grab her bag, and slung the kit over her shoulder as she walked towards the front of the building. Willow followed a step behind, patting her backpack, "Oh, I've brought my laptop along too. We've been asked to write an essay based on yesterday's lecture, and the students with the three best essays land a summer internship with Frank O. Gehry's."

Even though Tara's back was to her while she unlocked the door, Willow could clearly hear the laughter in her voice as she asked, "So you'll be writing about all the boring English men you've come across in your lifetime then? Or will you be concentrating on Xander's love of Sport's Illustrated?"

"Oh, you think you're soooo funny don't you!" Willow huffed, but couldn't hide her own smile when she heard the blonde giggle. "If you must know, we have to write about environmentally friendly architecture, and ecologically friendly construction." She could still see the sparkle in Tara's eyes as the blonde turned, "Stairs?"

"Sure" Willow nodded, and followed the sway of Tara's hips all the way up to her apartment. The blonde let them in, dropping her kit to the floor and walking to the kitchen. "Ok, jokes apart, that's kinda interesting. Do you have any ideas?"

Willow made her way to the couch and plonked herself down, "Yeah. I personally think harvesting solar energy is the way to go. And recycling your own water. Those kind of things are a bit more expensive to set up, but they're much, much cheaper in the long run."

Tara walked back from the kitchen with a glass of iced tea each for Willow and herself. She walked over to Willow and handed her one glass, which the redhead took with thanks. Tara smiled and sipped from her glass, "That makes sense. Last year Mom got her pool changed to a salt-water one, and said it would be more beneficial down the line. Where's the internship going to be based? LA?"

Willow sipped her own drink and shook her head, "Nope, Sunnydale. They're working on a new apartment complex in the western outskirts, and it'll be a good learning experience for a student. And of course, it's never too early to network" she smirked.

"Aye! Well, I hope you kick-ass with this essay!" Tara agreed, raising her glass in a silent toast before bringing it to her lips and downing it in one go. "Ok, I'm going to shower. Help yourself to anything from the fridge, or the TV, or whatever, and I'll be out in 15, ok?" Willow nodded, so she smiled, picked up her kit again and walked into the bedroom.

The redhead's eyes followed Tara all the way to the bedroom, and when the blonde was out of sight Willow fell back into the softness of the couch. She turned to stare at the backpack lying beside her, and considered starting up her laptop, but then vetoed the idea. 'Why bother when I know I'm only going to be thinking about how Tara's naked in the shower?' she sighed.

Willow watched Tara out of the corner of her eye as the blonde let her hands fall away from the laptop's keyboard and fell back into the softness of the couch. The redhead saved her own typing, and then fell back into the couch too, turning her head to stare at Tara, who was rubbing her tired eyes.

"How's it going?" Willow asked, discretely allowing Tara's vanilla scent to fill up her own system while she waited for the blonde to finish the yawn she'd just started.

Tara slowly moved her hand away from her mouth, and Willow watched that adorable half-grin take over her features when she herself started to yawn. "Like yours, from the looks of it" the blonde grinned, when Willow wiped away the sleepy tears that had formed in her eyes after that yawn. Standing up, Tara raised her arms straight up in the air, lacing the fingers of both her hands together while stretching her sore back muscles. Willow watched mesmerized as Tara's tee-shirt stretched against her bosom and rose high enough to gives her a glimpse of the blonde's toned belly.

She quickly raised her eyes to Tara's face when she a sigh, and was relieved to see that the blonde's eyes had been closed while she stretched. When she opened them, Willow saw blue clouded with the hint of wetness mixed with an obvious urge to sleep, and Tara confirmed, "Ok, I need coffee, or I'm going to fall asleep in the middle of this thing. You want a cup?"

Willow nodded, and checked the time on her laptop as Tara walked away. They'd now been working on their assignments for almost two and a half hours, and Willow for one was pretty happy with the portion of her essay that she'd managed to knock off. Putting a bookmark into the reference text she'd been using, Willow rose and went to join Tara in the kitchen. "So, how were the kids yesterday?" she asked, leaning against the counter. The blonde didn't look at her as she busied herself setting a plate on the opposite counter, "They were good. Mike's really getting into his history class thanks to his fascination with the Cold War, and it's really pretty sweet to see." She emptied out some chocolate chip cookies onto the plate, and then turned to see that the coffee was done. Reaching over, Tara lifted the pot and filled up two coffee mugs that had been placed next to the cookie plate.

Willow realized that she wasn't being as helpful as she possibly could, so pushing herself away from the counter she walked towards the jars and reached for the one labeled coffee. Tara moved away to give her space as she approached, and continued "Mel's really starting to grasp geography too, so a large part of my time was spent trying to explain why North America and South America are separate continents."

"Two?" Willow asked, holding out a spoon of sugar so that Tara knew what she was talking about. When the blonde nodded, she busied herself with sweetening their drinks, and asked, "Did you have an explanation for why the America's are separate, and the other continents aren't?"

"Not really" Tara grinned, watching Willow walk to the fridge and pull out the bottle of milk. Moments later, the two women walked to the dining table with their coffees and sat across one another with the plate of cookies in the middle. They sat in silence for a few moments, indulging in coffee and cookies, till Tara broke the hush, "How's Ira?"

Willow swallowed her cookie and smiled, "Good. He actually gets home from, uh, Paris, this evening." Tara nodded. "I spoke to him yesterday, and he was saying that he'd like to watch you play I was thinking that if it's ok with you, I'll bring him to watch you sometime next week?"

Tara smiled happily, "Yeah, no problem. I'll just have to check with the new coach first. Some of them have a strict 'No Friends or Family at Practice' policy, because they think it can be a bit of a distraction. And since I have no idea who the new coach is going to be, I'll just have to double check on Monday."

This time it was Willow's turn to nod, and as she did, the TV came on by itself, causing her to jump in fright. "Frikkin' hell!" she gasped, holding her hand over her heart as its beating regularized again. Her expression caused Tara to burst into a fit of giggles, and when she was done she noticed that even though Willow hadn't joined in, she was watching her with a sparkle in her green-eyes. Tara glanced at the TV, then looked back at Willow and said only one word, "Timer".

Willow looked confused for a second, and before comprehending what Tara was saying. The still-amused looking blonde added, "There's a documentary I want to watch on Animal Planet at 5:30, which is why I set the TV to come on by itself at 5:25. Honestly, I'm sorry if it scared you" she added, knowing that the redhead deserved an apology for the mini-fright.

"Tell it to the judge" Willow joked, and then added in a more serious tone, "I can leave if you want to watch..."

She was cut off by Tara even before she could complete the sentence, "Don't be silly. You can stay and watch it with me...if you want that is?"

Willow bobbed her head up and down, blatantly failing her attempt to not look overly-enthusiastic. The two women smiled at each other before rising, cups and all, and shifting back to the couch. This time Tara set the plate between them on the couch, and rested her feet on the coffee table as she sat back. Willow mimicked her move, "So, what are we watching?"

"The world's deadliest snakes", Tara answered, reaching for a cookie.

"Oooo-kay..." A second later, "Do you like snakes?"

"Nope, not one bit. I'm actually petrified of them" Tara answered sincerely. She felt Willow's confused gaze on her, and met green eyes with her own, "I am fascinated by them long as they're on TV. And the previews seem pretty interesting. Ooh, it's starting!"

"You sure are weird Maclay" Willow joked, turning her attention back to the TV.

"Tell me something I don't know" Tara smirked.

For the next 13 minutes Willow watched in silence as drama unfolded both onscreen and off it. On the other side of the magical glass she watched the documentary-maker traverse Asia in his quest of the continent's most dangerous snake. But equally intriguing for Willow were the reactions of the girl seated right next to her, which the redhead was making sure to follow out of the corner of her eye. Tara's cringing had started less than 2 minutes into the show, with the introduction of the Russell's Viper snake. Willow noticed how the blonde would dig further into the back of the sofa every time a shot of the snake trying to attack the camera would pop up on screen, and couldn't help but smile fondly at the small petrified sounds coming from the back of Tara's throat. The blonde practically yelped and jumped in her seat when the filmmaker touched a 15 foot long Indian King Cobra on the back of its head, and when the filmmaker closed the segment with a shot of a Common Krait chewing on its prey, Willow turned to see Tara sitting still with a look of absolute disgust on her face.

The redhead smirked, "Looks like it isn't just the French that enjoy frog legs, huh?"

"Ewww" Tara said, pulling a face and standing up. "Done?" she asked, and Willow nodded, handing over her empty coffee cup. Tara hooked it around the finger that was already holding on to her own cup, then picked up the empty plate of cookies and walked to the kitchen.

Willow took the opportunity to scoot in closer on the couch while the blonde was gone, and noticed that Tara also sat more towards the center when she returned. When the documentary resumed, this time in North America, there was a less than 15 inch gap separating the two women. The blonde watched wide-eyed as the image of an Eastern Diamondback appeared on screen. Both women exchanged a look when the narrator announced that the species of snake was almost selected as the National Animal of the U.S, but their attention was quickly drawn back to the screen which now bore a visual of a Western Diamondback. The narrator announced that both species were common in California, and Tara muttered "That's it...I'm never leaving home again"

Willow giggled and received a glare from Tara which shut her up. By the time the second commercial break came around, Willow noticed that the gap between Tara and herself had become even smaller. "Why are you watching this?" Willow asked again, looking over at Tara.

"Because..." Tara shrugged.

"'Because'?" Willow persisted. "That's the best reason you could come up with? 'Because'?"

"Yeah..." the blonde said slowly, "it's good to know what's out there, right?"

Willow narrowed her eyes, "Uh huh", her tone clearly implying that she didn't agree.

"Don't you 'uh huh' me!" Tara said, poking Willow on the shoulder.

Willow giggled again "Oh yeah, now I'm scared".

"As you should be" Tara retorted, and poked Willow again before looking back at the TV and scooting slightly closer to the redhead.

"Next the world's deadliest snakes is heading to where it all began...Africa" the narrator was saying, as the third segment began. The documentary proceeded to show montages of the African safari, but ended on a Black Mamba. "Ooh, that's the one from 'Kill Bill'!" Willow said, excited.

Tara nodded her head but didn't comment, and had just about digested visuals of the Mamba, a Boomslang, Yellow Cobra and Carpet Viper when the narrator announced, "...but thanks to Hollywood, no snake is more feared that this one", and proceeded to show the viewers South America's dreaded Anaconda. Willow felt a tug on her left arm, and realized that Tara had looped their arms together as she scooted as close to the redhead as she possibly could.

Though her eyes were still on the TV set before them, all of Willow's attention was now on the warmth coming from the body pressed so close to hers. She wasn't sure the blonde knew what she was doing, or whether she'd stay where she was if she knew the effect her innocent touch was having on Willow. The redhead tried to calm her own racing heart, and was just about succeeding in getting some kind of control over her senses when Tara yelped again and buried her face in Willow's left shoulder. Green-eyes went wide, and she looked down to see the top of Tara's head. Looking back at the TV screen, she realized what was causing Tara's current reaction : The documentary featured a detailed account of a wild Anaconda swallowing a whole deer, and Willow was quite sure she'd be as creeped-out if she'd been concentrating as much as Tara. Looking back at the blonde, Willow finally moved, and wrapped her free-arm around Tara in a semi-hug that was meant to offer comfort. She heaved a silent sigh of relief when she felt Tara slightly relax into the embrace.

A few moments later, Willow heard a muffled sound from her shoulder "Is it gone yet?"

Willow looked up at the screen, and saw the deer's feet disappearing, "Almost" she whispered, rubbing circles on Tara's back to calm the blonde. Tara nodded her head slightly and stayed where she was, until a few seconds later Willow spoke, "Ok, gone."

Tara pulled her head back from Willow's shoulder, but didn't look back at the TV immediately. Instead, she looked straight up at the redhead, "Really?" Willow smiled at her semi-scared, semi-suspicious tone, but nodded reassuringly, "Really."

Tara seemed to study her a moment, and then turned her head to the TV, which was now playing commercials again. Willow gently pulled back the hand that was wrapped around Tara, and expected her to sit up again, but instead, Tara stayed where she was, and rested her head on Willow's left shoulder. She also didn't release Willow's arm that she had been clutching onto for dear life, and in that moment the redhead understood for the very first time what it must feel like to be truly content. Neither girl said anything until the documentary resumed on location in Australia, and even then it was only to marvel at how pretty the Tiger Snake was, or vow to never go near a Taipan.

They continued to sit that way even when the end credits started rolling, and Willow was thinking about how the snake was her new favourite animal when Tara broke the silence, "Well, I'm definitely awake now."

Willow laughed softly, "Doofus". She sensed more than felt Tara laugh, and after sitting that way for a few more moments, Tara finally lifted her head and rested it on the back of the couch as she looked at Willow. "Do you have plans for the evening?"

The redhead knew that she probably looked as dejected as she felt when she said, "Yes actually. Dad should be home in about an hour, and I told him I'd do dinner with him..." Tara's expression stayed neutral as she nodded, but Willow quickly added, "Do you wanna join us?!"

Tara seemed to consider it a second, then regrettably shook her head, "I'd love to, but I do have an assignment I need to finish tonight. And hey, you should get some alone time with Ira this evening."

Willow was going to protest, but stopped when she saw the sense in Tara's words. After all, her Dad might be tired after the trans-Atlantic flight. Taking a deep breath, she exhaled through her nostrils as she nodded. Tara smiled up at her, then disentangled their still linked arms and stood up. Willow missed the contact immediately, but simply asked "You going to be at practice tomorrow?, as she sat forward and shut down her laptop.

Tara had just turned the TV off, "Yeah, but not for long. I have to be at work for this big meeting at 1:30, so I'll be leaving early. And I think it's going to be a long, long day. I might even have to tell the kids to let themselves in with the spare..."

The redhead cut her off, "Hey, I could teach them?" She watched Tara while packing her laptop and books away.

"You sure?" Tara asked, not wanting to inconvenience Willow.

"Of course. When will you be back?"

"I'm not sure really...the kids'll be here at 5, but we have a potential-client coming in for a sponsor meeting, and that usually means we'll more probably than not head out for drinks and dinner that I unofficially have to be at."

"That's alright, I'll just be here at 5 to work with the kids. Ok?"

Tara smiled gratefully, and held up her index finger. "Two ticks" She walked into her bedroom, and when she came out, walked straight up to Willow and held out the spare key.

Willow grinned, "You sure it isn't too soon?" She knew she was flirting, but didn't want to stop herself.

Tara laughed right back, and quirked her eyebrow at the redhead, "I'm sure". Willow thought she heard a serious undertone in her voice, but chose to let this precious moment be as it was for now. Pocketing the key, she slung her backpack over her shoulders and then leaned in to hug Tara. "I had a good day today" she smiled, still holding on to the blonde.

She felt Tara wrap her arms a little tighter around her slight frame and say in a half-whisper, "Me too." They pulled apart with matching grins, "Thanks Will."

"Anything for a pretty lady" Willow replied, and with mock-bow she smiled one more time at a grinning Tara, and let herself out of the apartment. The redhead could feel Tara's eyes following her as she turned to walk down the stairs, and couldn't help but feel like she'd made some definite progress.

Continue to The Game of Love Chapter Eighty-Two

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