Return to Neverland Chapter Fourteen


Author: EasierSaid
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Please don't sue me Mutant Enemy.
Feedback: Please leave feedback on the Neverland thread on the Kitten Board.
Note: Thoughts in italics.

The ride to the gallery was uneventful, the driver taking a surprisingly direct route over the city's hilly streets. Buffy, Jim and Willow shared the cab with the married couple Willow had spotted Tara with earlier, and all laughed at how fortunate they were that they had snagged one of the larger vehicles. The group made small talk about how they knew Tara, the couple revealing they had been fans of the blonde's work for years. Willow couldn't help but grin giddily as they described their fondness for the blonde's work, and for Tara herself. Of course they love her, she's loveable... she thought, shimmying in her seat.

When they stepped into the gallery, Willow couldn't help but smile. The two-room, L-shaped space was packed with about 150 people, all milling around drinking glasses of champagne and absently conversing while taking in the art. The ceilings were high, the exposed wood beams complimenting the hardwood floor. Evenly installed along the walls and spotlighted by small track lights were fifteen large, swirling canvases. Willow immediately felt her eyes drawn to the work, and she couldn't believe how stunning the paintings looked in a professional setting. The space was dotted with large arrangements of branches decorated in white christmas lights and Willow couldn't help but notice Tara's influence on the space's smaller decorations.

"We're going to get drinks, want one?" Buffy asked as she started to make her way toward the makeshift bar in the back with Jim.

"Sure." Willow replied, still taking in the spectacle before her.

"Okay, be right back," Buffy said as she disappeared into the crowd. Willow moved her gaze along the wall, briefly taking in each of the paintings. They were different than the works she had seen before, the works that Tara had decorated her home with. These were... milder? Not as much paint layered onto the canvas. Still passionate, still vibrant but definitely a different style... except for the last one. Tucked toward the back was a large canvas that stole Willow's breath. Heavy slabs of white and yellow paint, framed by a diffused purple glow. It's amazing... Willow thought. She started to move toward the work when a roar went up in the crowd; she turned in her place to see a surprised, and then blushing Tara standing just inside the doorway, her cab ride mates flanking her.

The blonde ducked her head, her hair falling forward, and Willow couldn't help but beam with pride as Tara looked up and smiled at the applauding crowd, her cheeks red. The blonde held up a hand, 'enough' and it was plain she hoped everyone would return to what they had been doing before she entered. "Speech!" Someone yelled enthusiastically from the back.

"Speech? I just w-walked through the door!" Tara replied good-naturedly. People laughed and then became quiet, waiting for the blonde to speak. "Um, I guess, just... thank you." She said sincerely, knowing that she wasn't going to be able to dodge the invitation to address the crowd. "Everyone here, for all of your support; especially Marissa Davis, who put this series together and asked me to be a part of it." Tara held her hand out and everyone turned to see Marissa standing hand in hand with her partner Michelle. The woman with Carole King hair smiled and nodded her head to Tara graciously; Tara nodded in return. The blonde took a big breath and continued. "I hope you've caught the other artists' work, if not there's a booklet, are there booklets?" She asked Marissa, who nodded, smiling. "There are booklets-" she laughed slightly, Willow melting upon hearing the sing-song noise, "in the back. So, um... enjoy!" She finished, laughing and everyone applauded again.

A few people surged forward to offer their congratulations to the blonde. Before the first one made it to her side, Tara's gaze swept the crowd, her eyes landing on a beaming, staring, Willow. Tara's smile went as wide as Willow's eyes; the redhead quickly looked away, embarrassed. She looked up at the blonde again in time to see Tara still smiling at her affectionately, before turning to accept the hand of a potential buyer. Wow. Willow thought, frozen.

"Here you go." Buffy said, nudging Willow's shoulder and offering a flute of champagne.

"What? Oh, thanks." Willow replied, taking the drink. She took a sip and then looked back over to Tara, who was now being ushered further into the gallery by a small cluster of well-dressed people. Willow turned to take in her long-time friend and her really tall date. "So... now what happens?" She asked Buffy.

"We look at the art."

Tara loved Willow's red hair. Not only was it beautiful, and soft, I bet it's soft, but it allowed her to keep tabs on the girl's movement through the crowded room. Everytime the blonde yearned to see the redhead, which Tara was noticing was more and more as each minute passed, all she had to do was stand where the gallery's two rooms met and let her eyes wander until she spotted red.

She noticed that Willow was taking her time intently studying each of her paintings, starting with the one installed closest to the front door. Tara watched as the girl would stand before each painting, arch her neck back and stare, her gaze gently caressing each part of the canvas. It made Tara's heart beat faster, watching Willow's eyes carefully roam over her work, and she knew she wasn't giving the people talking to her, her full attention. How could she, when Willow was within her line of site. How could she, when Willow was looking at her work, her art, with such consideration and care. A full forty minutes after her arrival and completely embarrassing speech, Tara noticed that Willow was only five works in. The way she's looking at the paintings... Tara's smile broke wide across her face. It's like... she likes them. Tara's smile faded and she looked at Willow more seriously. It's like she likes them-

A male voice cleared behind her. "Ms. Maclay."

The blonde turned and saw a smiling middle-aged man in tan slacks and a blue blazer. She smiled warmly and held out her hand. "Mr. Kahn, please, call me Tara." She said, taking his hand and letting him kiss her cheek. "How are you?"

"I'm well, I'm well." The man said, righting himself and releasing her hand. "But the real question is how are you? This is quite an impressive turn out." He said, his hand sweeping out to indicate the other people around them.

"It is, much more than I expected." Tara said gratefully, quickly looking around the room, her gaze momentarily sweeping over Willow's frame.

"There should be twice as many people here," Mr. Kahn complimented with authority. "You've once again managed to present an outstanding collection; I'm very impressed."

"Thank you." Tara said sincerely, placing her right hand on her stomach.

"I actually wanted to talk to you about one of these pieces..." the man distractedly trailed off, something catching his eye beyond Tara. Tara turned to see what the man was looking at, but of course her eyes found Willow instead and she smiled. She turned back to the man, who was also now smiling. "If you could excuse me for one quick moment Tara, I'll be right back."

Tara nodded confused, and watched as the man ducked around her and walked straight over to... Willow?

"Willow Rosenberg." Willow's eyes went wide as she stared at the work in front of her. She knew that voice. She turned slowly and saw the smiling middle-aged man. "Willow- What- I didn't know you were an art fan," the man said with amazed amusement as he swept the slim woman up in his arms. Willow was smiling now, returning the warm embrace. She opened her mouth to reply but he stopped her, taking her arm. "Come here, there's someone I want you to meet."

Willow frowned and turned to follow him, noticing as they dodged clumps of mingling people that he was pulling her toward... Tara? Willow looked around for another destination but knew with each step that he was leading her to the blonde. No, no! Willow thought, panicked. Buffy said socializing was bad! Her eyes went wide and she tried to pull the man who was leading her to a stop but it was no use. He ended their journey a mere foot away from a very perplexed looking Tara. Mr. Kahn turned to smile at Willow.

"Tara Maclay, I'd like you to meet my niece, Willow Rosenberg." Tara's eyebrows shot up as she looked to Willow, who looked absolutely mortified, turning her gaze to the floor. "Well don't be rude Willow, shake the woman's hand," the man teasingly instructed.

Willow looked up tentatively and her eyes met Tara's. The surprise on both's face was evident to the other, and Willow hoped beyond hope that the blonde wasn't mad at her for interrupting her all-business evening. What if I'm making her nervous, Willow anxiously thought. I don't want her to be nervous, I want her to be relaxed, she should always be relaxed and Buffy said socializing was an anti-relaxer, and what if- Her babble was cut short when Tara flashed her a teasing half-smile. Willow's eyes went wide as she took in the expression on the blonde's face; playful, her eyes twinkling with mischief and... amusement, mirth? I can't... she trailed off as she looked down and saw Tara's extended right hand. Willow's tense lips inadvertently relaxed and broke into a slight smile when she saw the bracelet on Tara's wrist. Her own hand gravitated outward and the two connected, a gentle clasping of soft hands. Tara rotated her wrist a little, and the bracelet slid along her skin a bit, gleaming as it caught the light overhead. Willow's smile went wide, her chest swelling with pride.

That's my gift. She's showing off my gift. The redhead looked up and made eye-contact with the similarly beaming blonde. Willow briefly thought, okay, should let go now, but her hand had a mind of its own. The two girls stared at each other for a long moment, smiling, and Willow gently moved the pad of her pointer finger up and over the inside of Tara's wrist, eventually touching the edge of the bracelet. Tara adjusted their grasp slightly, lowering their clasped hands so that the bracelet fell forward, resting on the outside of Willow's finger, trapping the tip of her digit between the jewelry and Tara's soft flesh. Willow wasn't sure when she last took a breath, but she was certain she was on the verge of passing out.

"Okay, I said shake it not hold it." Mr. Kahn's voice interrupted, and Willow both dropped her hand and eyes immediately. Tara swallowed hard, watching the redhead close up on herself, and then looked over at the man in front of her.

"N-Niece?" Tara asked, curiously, hoping against hope she hadn't made Willow uncomfortable with their prolonged hand shake.

"Not really." Willow spoke, looking up at Tara and then over to the man standing next to her side. "I mean I call him my uncle, but not-"

"Ira Rosenberg is one of my best friends." Mr. Kahn interrupted. "Known him since we were teenagers, we went to college together; I watched this little girl grow up!" He put his arm around Willow's shoulders and squeezed. Willow smiled, slightly embarrassed and Tara smiled sympathetically in return.

"Actually though, you're not introducing us Roger," Willow said, as the man looked down at her in confusion. "Tara's my roommate." She nodded at the blonde, who nodded in return, smiling sheepishly.

Roger Kahn pulled his arm away from Willow and place his hand over his heart, mock gasping before chuckling. "Now why doesn't that surprise me. The most talented artist I know living with the most creative programmer I know; you two must feed off of each other."

Willow's eyes went wide and she quickly looked to the floor, while Tara blushed bright red. Naughty thoughts, naughty sweaty, naked Willow thoughts! "W-Willow um, actually just moved in a couple of months ago, so... no...'feeding'..." Tara said wincing, looking up at the man, noticing Willow's eyes glued to her shoes.

Mr. Kahn nodded, oblivious. "So how do you two know each other?"

"Buffy." Willow said, looking up over to Tara, who just nodded, grateful to have the redhead's attention. "Tara and Buffy were roommates in college."

"Ah, good times." Mr. Kahn said. "How is Buffy, still living in the city? Working at the magazine?"

"Yeah," Willow said, craning her neck as she scanned the crowd for the petite blonde. "She's here..."

"How about your boyfriend Xander, he here too?" The man lovingly nudged Willow and winked at Tara. Tara's mood shifted somber as she looked over to Willow for her response.

Willow sighed deeply, flashing a quick look at Tara before grinding out, "not my boyfriend..." Never going to be my boyfriend... she thought.

"Okay, okay..." He joked, holding his hands up. Willow rolled her eyes and Tara watched the interaction closely. Satisfied that he had embarrassed Willow as much as a faux niece needed to be, he turned his attention back to Tara. "Before I dragged your roommate over to introduce her to you, I believe I was about to ask you about one of the pieces you're showing tonight." Tara pulled her thoughts from Willow and looked at the man expectantly. "I'd like to buy 'Golden Fantastic'."

Tara smiled warmly, proud, while Willow's eyebrows shot to her forehead and she looked at her pseudo-uncle with surprise. "You're going to buy one?" Tara's smile faltered, and Willow caught the look out of the corner of her eye. She turned her attention to the blonde and said, "not that it's not great, I mean, it is, with the colors and the, I just," she turned back to her uncle, unable to take Tara's confused, hurt look. "I didn't know you were collecting art," she prompted, turning to indicate to Tara that she wasn't questioning the quality of the painting, but his buying art at all. Tara's brow furrowed and she looked to the man. "I thought you were, sport memorabilia man..." Willow further prompted.

"I am, what, a man can't have two passions?" Mr. Kahn said jocularly. "I already own one of Tara's pieces," he nodded at the blonde, who just smiled sheepishly as Willow looked to her, surprised. "'Somehow, Someway'. Bought it last year after meeting this delightful young lady at a showing at Curtis Sutter's house."

"You know Curtis Sutter?" Willow asked the blonde.

Tara nodded. "He's bought a few of my paintings." She could tell Willow was surprised, and asked, "do, you, know him...?"

Willow nodded. "He's my boss."

Tara's eyebrows crept up and Mr. Kahn nodded. "Mr. Sutter stole this little genius from the company she worked at in Boston. I like to think I helped, a bit." He again nudged Willow affectionately.

"Y-You work for SutterSoft?" Tara asked, a little confused. Mr. Kahn looked between the two girls.

"You live together and you don't know where she works?"

Tara was caught off guard by the question, and stammered, "w-we haven't spent a lot of t-time together since she's moved in." Or more accurately, she never talks about herself when we do spend time together... the blonde trailed off.

"I've been busy getting started with work," Willow lamely excused, her head ducked in embarrassment.

"And I've been preparing for the show..." Tara tacked on absently, helpfully. Willow flashed Tara an timid, grateful smile and the blonde nodded slightly.

"That's a shame." Mr. Kahn said. "Well hopefully when this is done," he said, indicating the room, "you girls will be able to spend more time together; two of the best young women I know."

Willow blushed at that and Tara looked over at the redhead optimistically. Maybe... I hope...

A soft hand touched Tara's shoulder. "Tara," Marissa said. "Mrs. Igasaki would like to talk to you, if you have a moment."

Tara turned back to Mr. Kahn. "Mr. Kahn has asked about 'Golden Fantastic'," she said to Marissa, who smiled and nodded.

"It is still available." Marissa replied.

"Excellent," the man answered. "Just show me what papers I need to sign, I have my checkbook ready." He said patting his jacket's breast pocket.

"Great, just follow me." Marissa said, starting to walk toward the back. Mr. Kahn leaned over and gave Willow a warm hug.

"Don't leave; and try and track down Buffy, I want to have you girls over for dinner."

"Okay." Willow smiled, nodding.

Mr. Kahn leaned over and gave Tara a kiss on the cheek, smiling. "All of you girls." Willow nervously smiled and Tara nodded. "Beautiful show." The blonde smiled in reply and watched as the man walked away. The two girls stood next to each other for a long moment, awkwardly silent.

Say something, dummy. Willow said, looking up and catching Tara's eye; the two blushed and looked down.

"I w-wanted to tell you-" Tara started to say before being cut off, another soft hand on her shoulder. Tara looked over to see a very well-dressed, older Japanese woman smiling at her. "Mrs. Igasaki," Tara said warmly, taking her hand in a brief shake, bowing slightly. "If you could just-" she looked over to excuse herself from Willow's company for a moment, but the redhead was already gone. The blonde frowned and looked around the room, finally spotting the redhead making her way to stand in front of painting number six. Tara smiled slightly at that, and turned back to Mrs. Igasaki. "I'm sorry; Marissa said you wanted to speak with me..."

The painting was simply amazing. It occupied the final installation spot, and was located furthest from the front door. While lit as well as the other pieces, it seemed to be sort of hidden, tucked into a small nook toward the back that people seemed to be avoiding, and with crowds thinning as the night neared its end, the redhead was allowed to stand before it, alone. She stood about three feet from the work and let her eyes carefully inspect the painting. She had decided the purple paint had been applied to the canvas first, and then later, layers upon layer of white and yellow paint had been added. Probably with a palette knife... Willow inwardly smiled, pleased with her new art knowledge. The different shades of purple radiated out around the explosion of chunky white and yellow gestures, and occasionally Willow could pick out where some purple had snuck into the white and yellow space, as if shining through, between the thick, light colored paint. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen... Willow thought, spellbound.


The redhead turned her head and saw Tara standing about three feet away. The most beautiful thing I've ever seen... The blonde was wearing her familiar half smile, and Willow couldn't help but smile in return. "Hey." The redhead responded softly.

"I'm sorry about before..." Tara said, taking a step closer. Her voice was gentle, her manner slightly hesitant. "Interruptions; one of the hazards of these sort of events."

"You don't have to apologize; you're working." Willow answered. Tara nodded slightly, and then looked back to the thinning crowd. They were a good ten feet from the people finishing up their drinks, and Tara was fairly confident they wouldn't be disturbed. Willow watched as Tara looked around, and wondered if the blonde was looking for someone in particular. She probably needs to get back to the schmoozing, but it was nice of her to come and say sorry, even thought she didn't have-

"I love the bracelet." Tara blurted out, looking directly at the redhead. Willow's eyes went wide and Tara stammered, "I m-mean it's beautiful, everyone's been complimenting me on it all night; I think Marissa's even going to try and get the artist to show up here."

A warmth she hadn't felt before spread throughout Willow's chest, down her legs, down her arms and then up into her head. A mixture of pride, fondness, love-she squared her shoulders and stood taller, tingling. "I'm glad you like it," the redhead said quietly, her smile wide.

"Love." Tara corrected with a smile, before ducking her head bashfully. Willow's stomach fluttered, and she swallowed hard as she saw Tara's cheeks flush underneath the rogue strands of blonde hair covering her face. Tara looked back up and they looked at each other for a long moment. "I hope you don't-" Tara started and then stopped.

"What?" Willow asked, prompting the girl to continue.

"I hope... you don't think I'm being rude by asking... I just..." Willow waited patiently for the blonde's question. "Why?" Tara asked simply.

Willow wasn't expecting the question, although really, you should have; of course she wants to know why, wouldn't you want to know why, of course you'd want to know why. Her smile faltered and she racked her brain for an answer that wasn't 'I love you desperately'. "It reminded me of you," she shrugged, explaining simply. Course, everything reminds me of you; music, birds singing, sunshine- "I thought you should have it."

"Oh." Tara said simply. Breath, breath... my heart's going to explode, okay, breath... she patiently instructed herself. The two girls shared another long look, before Willow dropped her head, and then looked back up at the painting. Tara stared at her profile.

"I like this painting..." Willow said, gesturing to the work in front of her. "The sold sign is covering up the title card though; what's it called?"

She looked over at Tara innocently, and Tara couldn't help herself. I'm going to hell... She thought as she put on her most serious face and looked over at the painting. She bobbed her head slightly and said straight faced, "'Just Paint'."

The mortified blush on Willow's face broke Tara's facade and she chuckled, moving closer to the redhead and squeezing her forearm. "I'm teasing." Willow sighed, relieved, but gave Tara an odd look. "I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. And technically it is just paint. Well, and a little canvas." Willow's face broke into a wide grin, Tara's words echoing those of her best friend's several days earlier. Tara smiled widely in return, and again squeezed Willow's arm before dropping her hand.

"Ha ha." Willow said, her eyes sparkling. She looked back at the obscured title card. "Do you always hide the title after you sell a painting?"

Tara shook her head. "This one isn't really for sale-"

"It's the fifteenth..." Willow said, putting it together. Tara nodded and Willow's brow knit. "So it got here then? The missing painting, the one you were having shipped?"

Tara shook her head. "No. This one is from my personal collection at home. Hence the sneaky no-sale sold tag."

"I don't recognize it..." Willow said, digging through her memory, trying to place the work.

"Because it hangs in my studio." Tara said. "And you, never, come into my studio..." she trailed off with a self-conscious half-smile.

"Oh." Willow said, ducking her head. She looked back up at the painting, and then turned back to Tara. "So, why, is the title card covered up again...?"

Tara smiled warmly, loving how tenacious Willow's mind was. "I um, I don't tell people the titles to the paintings I paint for myself." She watched as Willow quietly processed the information before continuing. "They're, for me, you know? Just for me, have special meaning, the title is tied to that and, I don't know, seems like sharing that is sharing too much."

Willow nodded her head, and looked back to the painting, letting her eyes wander over the canvas again. Tara watched the girl, watched how her big, inquisitive green eyes took in each swirl, each color on the canvas. How the redhead's eyes seemed to hold a mixture of respect and affection for her work that she wasn't sure she had seen in anyone else that night. Or ever... she thought. She took a deep breath, and softly said, "It's called 'Fillmore'."

Willow snapped her head toward Tara, her brow furrowed in confusion. "But you just said..." The redhead stopped herself and went speechless, her mouth hanging open slightly as it hit her. What Tara had done. What Tara had shared. The blonde looked her in the eye, nervous, vulnerable. "Thank you." Willow spoke reverently.

"No problem." Tara replied, her voice a little thick. Her eyebrows arched in surprise when Willow suddenly frowned. "What?"

"'Fillmore'... the street?" The redhead looked back to the painting, trying to figure out the connection.

Tara chuckled and shook her head. "No, The Fillmore, the concert venue?" Willow shook her head, her eyes blankly indicating she didn't know the place. "You've never been to The Fillmore?" Tara asked, sympathetically.


"Oh..." Tara answered, trying to figure out how she could accurately explain the work. One side of her lips tugged into a frown, and Willow watched her. The redhead turned back to the painting and stared.

It doesn't look like a crowd of people... maybe... she looked back over to the blonde. Okay, here goes nothing... "Is this... what, sound, looks like to you or something...?"

Tara looked momentarily shocked before the throaty laugh escaped. She laughed hard and Willow looked down at her feet, her face going red. Immediately, she felt the blonde's hand cupping her left elbow, Tara's thumb tracing little circles on the fleshy part of her arm above the joint through her shirt. Willow hazarded a look over at Tara and saw... her eyes sparkling... I've never... I've never seen eyes sparkle like that. Willow was mesmerized as the blonde's laughs wound down, the esteem for the redhead plain on her face.

"No, but please, may I use that the next time an art critic asks me about a work?" The smile on her face was so genuine, so kind, that Willow knew the girl hadn't been laughing at her, that the blonde wasn't making fun of her for her question.

"Sure." Willow finally said, amazed that she was able to get any words out. Tara's half smile returned, and she dropped her hand from Willow's elbow with a light squeeze. Willow missed it's presence immediately.

"It's..." Tara looked at the piece before looking to Willow. "There are crystal chandeliers at The Fillmore, they hang over the main floor, five on each side. Before and after the different bands play, the chandeliers are on, so they're kind of, white, with yellow." She indicated the center part of the painting. "But, they're next to these theater lights, and the gel, or whatever you call the thing that changes the light's color, is purple..." She indicated the area along the edge of the work. "They're majestic." Willow smiled and Tara continued, heartened by the redhead's attention. "I can never see the bands when I go to the shows, I'm too short-"

'Wishes was 2 inches taller...' Willow thought fondly.

"And I somehow always end up behind the tallest person at the show." She smiled. "So most of the time I find myself staring at the chandeliers. Just kinda, get lost in them, listening to the music..." The girls shared a long, warm look and Tara sadly shook her head slightly. "You've never been?"

"Never." Willow responded.

Tara took a deep breath, before exhaling with a smile. "That needs to change."

Willow's heart raced, and she quickly looked to the ground and back up, the blonde smiling at her. Out of the corner of Willow's eye she saw Marissa approaching. Tara followed Willow's gaze and turned slightly.

"Hey, sorry to interrupt," Marissa said as she stood next to Tara, her hand resting on the blonde's back. "I have a fellow who wants to know more about 'Speak Low' and a woman who would like to speak to you about commissioning a work."

"Okay." Tara nodded, knowing that as much as she wanted to beg out of it, ask to speak to the two potential buyers another time so she could extend more time with Willow, she needed to go. She turned her attention to Willow. "We'll talk more later?" She asked hopefully.

"Yes." Willow nodded, smiling. Tara gave her a huge smile and turned, walking away with Marissa. Willow turned back to the painting and let her eyes get lost in the little nuances. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned, seeing Tara again. Willow was about to ask if she had forgotten something, when Tara reached forward and took one of her hands. Willow froze as the blonde squeezed her hand.

"Thank you for the bracelet." Tara said sincerely. She squeezed Willow's hand again, and then turned, heading down to where Marissa was patiently waiting with a gray haired gentleman. Willow wasn't sure if she was going to cry, sing with joy or faint; she opted to just glow, as she turned back to the painting.

Fifty minutes later, Tara entered the Living Room Lounge. The amber colored room was lit with small, ambient lights, and house music poured out of the sound system. She wandered through the crowd until she saw Buffy sitting on one of the couches. As she closed in on the petite blonde, the girl spotted her and cheered. Tara smiled widely and curtsied before taking a seat beside her friend. Her eyes quickly looked around. "Where's Willow?"

"She went home." Buffy replied, handing over a drink. "Bellini," she defined, before getting back to the redhead. "She said she had to work tomorrow, something about a good night's rest-"

"School night." Tara said, smiling widely.

"Exactly." A tipsy Buffy replied. She reached over and clinked her glass to Tara's and the two took sips. "So how do you think the show went and hey! That's not my tennis bracelet!" Tara looked a little surprised by the sudden topic change, and had to put her drink down quickly so as not to spill when Buffy grabbed her hand and inspected her bracelet. "You wore this instead of a sapphire tennis bracelet?" The petite blonde accusingly asked. "Tara, it's funky."

"It's beautiful." Tara retorted.

"Where'd you get it?" Buffy asked.

Tara took a deep breath. "Willow gave it to me."

"Cool." Buffy said, picking up her drink.

"She bought it for me at Annabelle's this weekend." Tara clarified. Buffy's brow furrowed and she stared at Tara.

"Why?" Buffy asked. "I mean, super nice, but...?"

Tara shrugged, smiling warmly. "She said it reminded her of me and that I had to have it."

"Huh." Buffy said, her wheels obviously turning. She saw that Tara was still watching her, so she said, "you need to keep your friend Anya on a leash."

Tara laughed at that, pleased that Buffy hadn't grilled her about the bracelet, that the petite blonde didn't deem it 'big deal' material. Definitely need time to figure out Willow without Buffy's 'help'. The blonde put on her best straight face and asked, "why, what'd she do?" "She stole Willow's date, and really pissed her off." Tara's face faltered a bit at that, guilt creeping in. "You should have seen Willow's face, I've never seen her so mad. Bright red, red like her hair red." Buffy shook her head and took a sip of her drink.

Tara looked down at her hands. Willow was upset that her date left with someone else... she liked him? Of course she liked him, she was smiling, she-

"I mean, Willow was like, good riddance Kevin-"

"What?" Tara interrupted, trying to get Buffy to focus for a moment.

"Kevin. Willow's date. He kept putting his hand on her ass region, which, she didn't like so much."

Tara fumed. 'Kevin' was touching Willow's 'ass region'? Suddenly the 'punishment' of sending him off with Anya didn't seem to be enough. Her brow furrowed as she replayed the conversation so far. "Wait, you said Anya pissed Willow off, but it sounds like Willow was relieved-"

"No, the pissed off was earlier in the evening. I was getting my first drink, I look over and Willow's standing in conversation with Anya, shaking. Looked like she was going to fisibly- fisbly-" Buffy sighed in frustration. "Phy-sick-all-y assault her." Tara frowned. "And you know Anya. Cool as a cucumenber. Cucumbbe-" Buffy frowned in confusion. "Cucumberbund?"

"Cucumber." Tara supplied.

"That's why I love you in a very non-gay way." Buffy said. She smiled as she saw Jim crossing the floor toward them. "He's cute. Don't you think he's cute?" She gushed, leaning into the blonde.

"Very cute." Tara replied. Jim sat down next to them and Buffy gave him a big kiss. Tara looked to her watch and then stood.

"Hey hey!" Buffy protested, pointing to the now-empty chair.

"It's been a long day..." Tara apologized. "I think I really need some sleep." Buffy pouted and Tara chuckled. "You have more important things to do." She arched an eyebrow and Buffy smiled. The petite blonde held out her hands and Tara leaned over, hugging her tightly.

"You were wonderful tonight." Buffy said softly into Tara's ear. Tara nodded in thanks and kissed Buffy's cheek. The girls broke apart with a warm look and Tara zig-zagged through the crowd toward the exit.

I wonder if Willow's still awake... she thought, the night air closing around her as she tried to hail a cab.

Continue to Neverland Chapter Sixteen

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