Return to Neverland Chapter Eighteen


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.

Willow walked up the stairs, dragging her overnight suitcase behind her, the wheels hitting each step with a bump before rolling up and on to the next height. It was just before four in the afternoon on Sunday, and she was eyeing the front door with a hope she hadn't felt in a long time. The flight had gone smoothly, the BART ride back into the city long, but uneventful. In a few short minutes, she'd see Tara, and the thought brought a thousand-watt smile to her face. Don't be nervous, just be friendly, she instructed herself, wiping her damp hands on her jeans before inserting the key into the lock and turning the handle.

She entered the apartment, and encountered silence.

You have got to be kidding me! Willow thought, exasperated. I mean, Tara does still live here, right?! Willow let go of the handle on her wheeled overnight bag and it tipped over with a thud. She regarded it for a disbelieving moment and then rolled her eyes. "Tara?" She yelled impatiently, eyes absently looking at the ceiling. Those same eyes immediately went wide and she slapped her hand over her mouth. She could be sleeping! Taking a nap, cause it's a time of day for naps, and she has been known to nap, and... there was no sound. She's either a really heavy sleeper or she's not home, Willow concluded with a pout. She looked down at the tipped suitcase and sighed.

She crossed to the stairs, away from the fallen luggage and ascended quietly. As she reached the top step, she leaned her head into the hallway and looked toward Tara's room. The door was open, and Willow huffed in frustration. Yep... not home. The redhead restlessly tapped her thighs with her hands and looked to her own room, the door similarly open. Better bring up my suitcase... she thought, wondering where Tara was spending her Sunday afternoon.

Tara took a long pull from the bottle of beer in her hand, and nodded along to the music. She had no idea what the name of the band on stage was, nor what they were singing about. In fact, she wasn't sure she could actually qualify what she was doing as 'listening'. She was... avoiding. Avoiding going home, avoiding running into Willow, avoiding talking to the redhead about moving out. Tara sighed and dropped her hand down to her side, lightly brushing the bottle back and forth against her jean-clad leg.

The weekend had been ridiculously long. Even with the time she put in at the gallery helping Marissa, there still seemed to be enough lonely hours in each day for the tears to overwhelm her. She barely made it home Saturday night before they started to fall, and Tara was worried that her resolve to subtly ask Willow to move out would falter as soon as she saw those expressive green eyes. And the beautiful red hair, her adorable freckled skin... Tara sighed, heartsick.

She just needed more time. Time to come to terms with what she was about to do, what she'd be letting go of when the redhead moved out. Tara shook her head as the crowd around her started to cheer, the band ending a song, and then immediately beginning another. She couldn't put it off forever though. She'd have to say something about the move this week.

"What do you think?" The question was spoken loudly into her ear, the person asking leaning in close. She turned to regard Morgan, a thin, attractive brunette in her late 20s wearing tight jeans and an even tighter t-shirt. She was one of the other artists in the series, and someone Tara knew in passing only. Oh, they had hung out a few times before, but definitely weren't regular, lets-go-to-a-show-alone-just-the-two-of-us friends. The woman had wandered into the gallery earlier in the day to pick up some paperwork for the LA show, and had casually invited the blonde to the show. "Bottom of the Hill, nine o'clock, should be a blast." To Tara's surprise, she'd said yes.

Show at Bottom of the Hill... I'd get home after midnight, Willow will be asleep, sleep in a bit, miss Willow in the morning... In reality it had been an easy enough decision. Tara realized the girl standing to her left was waiting for an answer to her question about the band, so the blonde leaned in close to the girl's ear, saying in a loud voice, "they're not bad." They could be "not good" too Tara, it's not like you're paying attention...

Tara leaned back and the girl next to her nodded, before leaning in again. "I'm really glad you decided to come tonight." Morgan leaned back and smiled. Tara smiled politely in return, and turned back to the band. She started nodding her head along to the beat again, and took another pull from the bottle. She felt her face fall, and she couldn't help but wonder what Willow was doing.

Willow paced in her bedroom, wearing a pair of cotton pjs and a white cotton tank. Okay, it's... she looked at the clock, 11:30 on Sunday night; where in the frilly heck is Tara?! She wandered back to her desk and picked up the brochure set on the edge. 8 pm, she confirmed, tossing the brochure back on the desk. The gallery closes at 8 on Sundays, so she's not there. Willow's face went contemplative, and she thought, does she even go to the gallery now that the show is opened? Or is it just something she did in preparation for the show, and now she does other stuff while the show runs...

The redhead frowned and sat on the edge of her bed. This is the second Sunday in a row she's been out late. Maybe she went out for drinks with Marissa and Michelle. Her mind paused. Buffy's out of town, so... Maybe she went out for drinks with Anya...

Anya. Willow's face set in antipathy and she stood again, pacing and twisting her fingers together, her ire with the bottle blonde bubbling to the surface. Okay, Anya said I wanted to have sex with Tara, which is so, it's just so... Willow shook her head in disgust before her face fell into a defeated pout. True. She paused and then started to pace again. Why does she even care what I want to do with Tara. Or does she care about Tara? Was she watching Tara? Willow's eyes went wide. Is that how she noticed me watching Tara? Does she want to have sex with Tara? The redhead's stomach turned. Has she had sex with Tara?!

Willow froze, completely rigid as the thought of Tara with Anya together, assaulted her mind. Anya said that Tara was a wildcat in bed... does she know that for a fact? I mean, is that like, a hypothesis, just thrown out there because Tara is incredibly hot and sexy and sensual and she has great, strong hands and soft, full lips and of course she'd be good in bed...? Or is it a theory, one that's been tested empirically with separate encounters and positions and I need to sit down. Willow promptly sat. No, she told herself reassuringly. Okay, obviously we have a runaway train on the hysterical-Willow track. The redhead sighed in exasperation. Anya left with Kevin on Wednesday. She's not gay. Willow's brow knit together. She could be bi. Or you know, slutty.

Willow again sighed, and shook her head. No, because if Tara slept with Anya she'd tell Buffy because she's Buffy's best, well other, best friend, and Buffy's too loose lipped to keep that to herself and she would have definitely told me at the party. Willow nodded to herself. Right?

Willow turned her head and took in the clock. It was now midnight. What am I doing?! The redhead thought, annoyed. You're acting like an idiot. Like some, crazy jealous girlfriend. She stood and paced again. Tara is out. It's late. It's none of your business where she is. Willow nodded her head, agreeing with the line of thought. Game plan: get to know Tara. Let Tara get to know me. Do not wait up and pace around imaging her having sex with people that you hate. Willow stopped and reviewed her resolutions. Now go to sleep, you have to be up in about six and a half hours.

The redhead groaned and moved to the wall, where she flicked off the light switch. In the dark, she carefully maneuvered to her bed, crawling along it and then snuggling up under the covers. Tara wouldn't sleep with Anya... Willow thought, her face frowning. That's just stupid. The long, shaky exhale belied the confident statement.

Tara entered the dark house, quietly closing the door behind her and placing her keys gently on the secretary table. It was just after one, and she was almost positive the house was still because Willow was sleeping. The blonde slipped out of her shoes and jacket, and crossed to the stairs. She climbed them slowly and emerged in the hallway, allowing her eyes to dart over to Willow's door. It was closed, and Tara sighed. I hope her trip was okay... The blonde slipped into the bathroom, brushed her teeth, then headed into her room, turning on the light.

She closed the door behind her and moved to her dresser. She took off the glass bead bracelet, watch and ring she wore, and then dug her right hand in her pants pocket, pulling out a handful of loose change, an odd bill or two and a small scrap of paper. She dumped the contents on the dresser's surface and sighed, looking at the scrap of paper. She picked it up and opened it, staring at Morgan's number.

She had suspected that Morgan had found her attractive, but had never really given it much thought before the woman had casually slipped her the paper with a squeeze of the hand as they parted ways at the bus stop. It doesn't matter if she's funny, beautiful, clever; she's not Willow. Tara shook her head, and dropped the paper, moving to her armoire to grab a night gown. But Willow isn't gay, and Morgan is. Tara took a deep breath, and changed into her sleep wear, tossing her dirty clothes into the hamper. Maybe it's time to start dating, even if the person isn't going to be... Willow. Tara turned off the light and crossed to her bed, snuggling under the covers on her side and letting her eyes adjust to the dark.

I could do worse than Morgan, Tara thought, looking absently out the window to the dark, cloud covered sky. She's pretty. Nice. A good artist. We'd have a lot in common. Maybe I should call her... Tara rolled over onto her back and thought about what that would mean. A date with Morgan, asking Willow to move out... it'd be like you were actually having a life. Tara sighed, and closed her eyes, knowing that she wasn't going to call the brunette. Besides being unfair to the girl, dating her to get over someone else, it would be unfair to herself. If Willow moved out- When, Willow moved out... Tara corrected herself ruefully, she was going to need time. Time to mourn, pull herself together, move on to being someone who was open and ready for a real relationship.

The blonde sighed again, feeling her muscles sink into the softness below her. It seemed like the only thing she wanted more than Willow now, was time.

Marissa entered the gallery bundled up in a warm, winter jacket. The weather outside was atrocious, and she was glad she hadn't overestimated the day's potential, wearing long pants and a wool sweater. She made her way through the first room, smiling at her assistant Lucy, who patiently stood next to an information desk watching several people peruse the art. They had seen steady foot traffic throughout the day, and had even had a few inquiries about the a few paintings' avialability. Marissa entered the second room, and began to walk diagonally toward the office, her eyes evaluating the moderate crowd.

Her brow furrowed as she came upon one form in particular, standing near the back in front of 'Untitled'. "Hmm," she said softly, as she opened the office door, and entered, unbuttoning and sloughing off the heavy jacket as she shut the door almost all the way behind her.

Tara sat behind the desk, a sandwich, chips and drink sitting untouched before her. The girl looked tired, and disinterested in the meal in front of her; she absently leafed through a magazine. Marissa looked back out into the gallery through the small crack in the open door before turning back to Tara. "Did you know Willow is here?"

What? Tara thought as her head snapped up, her face screwed up in disbelief. Marissa nodded 'come see' as she cocked her head at the open door. The look on Tara's face was dubious as she stood and crossed to the door, peaking out the small opening. She instantly recognized her roommate from behind, the bright red hair set against a brown top Tara remembered Buffy buying the redhead for Hannakuh the year before.

"I take it she didn't have plans to meet you for lunch..." Marissa said to the back of Tara's head.

"No..." Tara replied surprised, confused as she took in Willow staring at 'Fillmore'. Tara turned to Marissa. "I'm going to go see..."

"Yep," Marissa said, picking up a piece of paper from the desk and following her to the door. "Gotta get Lucy to sign this and then run next door." Tara nodded and the two women exited, Marissa making a beeline back into the other room, Tara standing stunned a few feet from the office for a long moment, perplexed, staring at Willow's back.

What- Why is she here? Tara anxiously thought, watching as Willow shifted her weight, but not her gaze. The redhead's neck was arched a bit, and she was obviously taking in the canvas, stroke by stroke. Tara sighed, and approached her roommate. "Willow?" She asked apprehensively.

Willow froze, her eyes going wide. Oh crap. She turned slowly, and took in a very confused Tara. The blonde was wearing a white long sleeve v-neck t-shirt and navy blue cargo pants, her feet in running shoes. Her hair was up in a haphazard pony tail and Willow felt the familiar warmth spreading through her chest.

"What are you doing here?" Both girls asked simultaneously, Willow blushing and Tara's baffled frown deepening.

"I'm helping Marissa," Tara answered, her mind swimming. She hadn't expected to see Willow so soon, and especially not here. A mess of emotions battled for supremacy inside her, and she was vaguely aware of a rushing white noise in her ears.

"Helping. That's good." Willow replied. Why are you here, why are you here... her brain frantically searching for an acceptable answer. Well, you're here because you missed her, and thought seeing her paintings was the next best thing to seeing her... but you can't say that-

"Are you on your lunch hour?" Tara interrupted Willow's thoughts, as the blonde tried to figure out why the redhead was standing in the gallery at 12:30 in the afternoon on a Monday.

"Yes." Willow replied, feeling oh-so-busted.

"Don't you work down in SOMA?" Tara asked, bewildered. "Down by Embarcadero?"

"Yes." Willow again answered weakly. Okay, need more words here, can't just keep saying 'yes'...

"That's like more than thirty blocks away," Tara said perplexed. "Did you take a bus down here?"

Willow's eyes went wide. Yes, she had taken a bus, two in fact. "I had a meeting," she blurted out. "At the hotel." Tara's brow knit in confusion and Willow could tell the blonde wasn't buying it. "A meeting at the hotel, that has meeting rooms, for people like me who need to- The Four Seasons," she exclaimed, naming the first hotel that came to mind. Oh god, is there even a Four Seasons in San Francisco? The redhead thought nervously as she held her breath, waiting for Tara to respond.

"Down on Market?" Tara asked.

"Yes," Willow breathed, relieved. Thank you, Four Seasons.

"So... you decided to walk seven blocks to the gallery because..." Tara led, still not understanding why Willow was there.

"I..." Willow flailed for an answer. "I wanted to see the paintings again," she said innocently, meekly.

Tara melted at Willow's childlike answer, her defensive posture wilting. "Really?" She asked quietly.

"Yeah. I..." Willow swallowed. "I wanted to see what the gallery looked like during the day, see how many paintings you've sold."

"Oh," Tara said, her mind now swimming in a different, twitterpated way. "Only five," she said sheepishly.

"I can't believe it..." Willow said, shaking her head. "All those people at the opening... were they completely blind?" Willow frowned. "The people who haven't bought a painting are dummies," the redhead said with conviction. Tara laughed quietly and looked up at her roommate, her eyes dancing. "What?" Willow asked, confused by the expression on Tara's face.

"You know that would make you a 'dummy', right?" Tara asked warmly.

"Oh yeah," Willow said, the thought sinking in, her eyes dropping. She looked back up at the blonde. "I'll buy one," she said firmly. "Just tell me which one you want me to buy, and I'll buy it."

"Willow..." Tara admonished with a laugh.

"I'm serious, I have some money, I could buy one," Willow said, puffing out her chest.

Oh god she's adorable... Tara thought, her chest swelled with pride. "I'm not going to let you buy one of my paintings," she said, beaming.

"Why not?" Willow replied with some indignation.

"Because I don't let my friends buy my stuff. If you wanted one of the paintings, I'd just give it to you."

"But they're for sale-" Willow started to argue.

"I'd just give it to you," Tara replied sincerely. She thought about what she had just said, and nervously pushed up her sleeves and put her hands in her pockets, uncomfortable with how naked the statement must have seemed. Willow watched the action and caught the sight of the glass bead bracelet on the blonde's right wrist. The redhead smiled widely. "What?" Tara asked, confused, fearful of what the girl standing across from her was thinking.

Willow pointed to Tara's wrist, saying simply, "bracelet."

Tara smiled in return. "Oh yeah," she said, remembering now that she had worn the bauble. "I um, I can't seem to take it off..." she joked.

Willow's face immediately went worried. "Why? Is the clasp broken?"

Tara let loose a throaty laugh. "No, I- I just love it."

"Oh," Willow replied, blushing. The two stood opposite each other for a moment, each taking their words.

"How much longer do you have in your lunch hour?" Tara asked casually.

Willow looked down at her watch. "Uh... about fifty minutes, including the bus ride back." She smiled sheepishly. "My hours are kind of flexible, so, I can be a little late if I want."

"Is that going to give you enough time to get some food before you head back?" Tara asked, concerned.

Willow waved her hand, mock scoffing, "not hungry."

"Willow, you need to eat something..." Tara gently scolded.

"Actually," the redhead said, "you'd be surprised. Last week, I was really busy and the only thing that looked halfway edible in the vending machine at work was a package of gummy bears-"

"Come on," Tara said, reaching forward and lightly cupping Willow's elbow, gently pulling her toward the office. Willow's breath hitched.

"Where are we going?" She asked, wide-eyed and tingling.

"Office," Tara replied. They entered and Tara shut the door behind them. She dropped her hand and nodded to the seat behind the computer. "Sit, eat."

Willow looked down and took in the meal. "Tara, I can't eat your lunch-"

"Of course you can. I'm offering." Willow arched her eyebrows, so Tara qualified, "I'm not even that hungry."

"Um, hi kettle." Willow said and Tara half-smiled as she rolled her eyes. "How about this," Willow proposed. "We'll split it, since neither of us is all that hungry, yet apparently for some mysterious reason, we both need to eat."

"Okay," Tara said, bobbing her head in agreement. Willow sat in one of the chairs facing the desk, Tara resuming her place in the office chair. She put half of the sandwich on a napkin and handed it over to Willow.

"Okay, what am I eating," Willow asked, eyeing the food in her hand.

"Turkey sandwich with lettuce, mayo and cranberry sauce," Tara replied.

"Ooo, very Thanksgivingy." Willow replied, taking a big bite.

"Well, seemed appropriate with the weather and all," Tara explained.

Willow's eyes went wide and she chewed quickly and swallowed, Tara grinning, amused by her roommate's excited behavior. "I know! What is up with the weather! When I left on Friday it was 75 and balmy, now it's barely 60 and freezing."

"Ah, well you see, when you left it was still Indian Summer..." Tara relayed in mock wisdom. "You've returned to fall."

"So no more sunshine?" Willow asked pitifully.

"No more sunshine," Tara chuckled. God, that pout...

"Hrmph," Willow grunted in disapproval as she took another bite.

"Would you like some bottled water?" Tara asked. Willow nodded and Tara stood, moving to the little fridge. She pulled out the water and returned to the desk, offering it to Willow. Both girls smiled slightly as their fingers brushed against each other.

"Thanks," Willow said, twisting the cap and taking a drink.

"So how was Portland?" Tara asked, sitting and taking a bite of her half of the sandwich.

"It was good." Willow said after swallowing another bite. Wow, I didn't realize how hungry I was... "Have you ever been?" Tara shook her head no, so Willow continued. "It's small, but really nice. Oh! I actually got you something at Powell's."

Tara's eyebrows crept up. She bought me something, again? "W-What's Powell's?"

"Oh, it's a big bookstore." Willow explained. "Big, like, fills a whole city block big. I bought you a cookbook. I thought we could use it, come up with some new meals together."

"We"... "together"... Tara thought, stunned. "Thank you," she managed to get out.

"No problem." Willow said, finishing off her half of the sandwich. Tara pushed the chips toward Willow, who smiled and pulled out a few.

"How was the work stuff?" Tara asked, her mind still stuck on 'we... together'.

Willow immediately became evasive, her body posture changing, tensing. "It was fine. Kinda boring. Did you have a good weekend?" She asked, eyebrows arched, hoping Tara would follow along with the conversation change.

There she goes again... Tara frowned internally. Why does she always do that... "It was okay," the blonde replied, subdued. The two sat in silence for a moment.

Willow fidgeted in her chair, taking another handful of chips. Don't ask her where she was last night, don't ask her where she was last night... the redhead internally instructed.

"It's kinda weird," Tara finally said, Willow looking at her quizzically. "The last time I saw you was here. The gallery."

"Oh yeah." Willow said, smiling. The two shared a long moment, each getting lost in their own happy memory. "I didn't know you worked down here," Willow said softly. "I mean, I didn't know if you just, worked in setting the show up and then went away, waited for the show to end, or-"

"Most artists do that; I'm just helping Marissa. I..." the blonde stopped, trying to think of a way to describe why she wanted to be there. "I don't know, I like to be down here," she said simply. "See the reaction people have to the work, answer any questions people might have." She blushed. "And I'm just now realizing how incredibly vain that is..."

"No, no." Willow said, waving her hand. "Bryan and I set up a website in our junior year of college; by the end of the first day we had designed an apple script to automatically refresh the browser every thirty seconds so we could see the hit counter roll over." Tara smiled amused. "So totally get it," Willow reassured, and Tara nodded slightly. "So where were you last night?" Willow blurted out, immediately cringing internally. What is wrong with you?! She scolded herself. Do you have any self-control?!

Tara looked up, trying to think of what to say. 'Oh, I was out avoiding you...' "I um, I went to a concert with my friend Morgan." Good, innocuous, Tara thought.

"Oh," Willow replied. Morgan, I don't know Morgan. But hey! Guy friend, so that's good... "Who'd you see?" Willow asked, realizing with some mortification that she was bringing the last chip from the bag to her lips.

"Um..." Tara's brow knit. What was their name... think, think- "Alkaline Trio?" She said hesitantly.

"Oh, they're good," Willow said smiling softly. "Power pop slash punk. Fillmore?"

Tara shook her head, "Bottom of the Hill."

"Hmm... don't know it," Willow said, realizing that there were a lot of places in the city that she didn't know.

"It's down in Potrero Hill," Tara said. "Small, has a bar. It's a fun little venue."

"Cool. I'll have to get down there sometime." There was another long moment of silence, Willow taking a long pull on her water. "So what are you going to do for the rest of the day," she asked tentatively.

"Um, I was going to go down to Anya's store," Willow's face turned into a frown, Tara's eyebrows raising a bit. "Pick up some stuff and then come back here. I'm helping close the gallery tonight."

"Oh," Willow said. "So, you won't be home for dinner?" She asked, a trace of disappointment in her voice.

"No," Tara said, wishing she hadn't told Marissa she'd help out today.

"What about tomorrow?" Willow asked, trying to appear calm, and not too eager. "I thought maybe we could try out the cookbook for dinner-"

"I'm helping close again tomorrow," Tara said apologetically. Why did I say I'd help out so much? Tara asked rhetorically. Oh right, you were trying to avoid Willow...

"Wednesday?" Willow asked hopefully, a weak smile on her lips. Okay, if she says no don't offer Thursday, cause that's just pathetic...

"I'm free Wednesday," Tara said smiling, immediately backpedaling and amending "I mean, I don't need to help close, so I'll be home, if you wanted to make dinner."

"Great." Willow beamed, not noticing the backpedal. She took a drink of water, not noticing Tara's evaluative stare.

"I noticed you frowned a bit, when I mentioned Anya..."

Willow again frowned. "Oh. Yeah."

Tara sucked in a deep breath, before saying, "I'm sorry about what she did on Wednesday, taking off with your date." Not really, but hey...

"Oh, I don't care about that," Willow said, flapping her hand. "He was... I was glad he left."

Tara nodded, allowing Willow that. "She said something that made you mad," the blonde continued, simply.

Willow whipped her head up, eyes wide, panicked. Does she know what Anya said? What I did, with the bumping into the coffee table with the staring-

"Buffy said she kinda, saw some tenseness between you two..." Tara trailed off, and Willow opened her mouth before closing it again, no sound escaping. "Just... whatever she said?" Tara said, hoping she was saying this right. "If it was embarrassing and sexual in nature, just ignore it because that's just Anya. Embarrassing, and sexual in nature," she blushed and half smiled, dropping her head a bit.

Willow nodded. "She's kinda blunt," the redhead finally said, apprehensively.

"I usually go with um, crude," Tara said, looking up with a bright smile. Willow smiled widely in return.

"Were you two ever involved?" Willow asked, before her brain could censor her. What is wrong with you?! She immediately cried out internally.

Tara gagged on her soda, her eyes wide. "What?" She asked horrified, putting the drink down on the desk with an unsteady hand.

Willow's eyes went similarly wide as she took in Tara's obviously adverse reaction. "I'm sorry, that's none of my business-"

"No!" Tara interrupted, her brow knitting. "Anya- Did she say, did she say we had been? Involved?" Okay, not below Anya to think she'd be helping by implying that- Tara thought, panic gripping her head and heart.

"No!" Willow replied, equally panicked. "I just, she said, and I just-" she realized there was no way she could get out of this without retelling their whole 'wildcat' conversation in detail. "It's- nothing. I'm sorry, forget I said anything," Willow said, contritely.

Tara sat silent for a moment, trying to figure out what in the world Anya could have said to give Willow the impression that she, had ever... "Anya's straight," Tara clarified, watching her roommate to make sure the redhead understood nothing could have ever happened between them. Willow nodded her head, eyes wide.

"But that doesn't necessarily mean, I mean-"

"It does for me," Tara said. "I, I don't..." Tara took a deep breath, "I don't... mess around... with straight girls." Tara further explained, a bright blush overtaking her features.

"Because of Jill," Willow said, before thinking. Tara's jaw dropped and Willow's eyes bugged out of her head. Oh my god! The redhead immediately started to wave her hands in alarm. "I'm sorry, that was so-"

"Wow," Tara said shocked, her whole body reacting to hearing her ex-girlfriend's name. She looked up and saw a stricken look on the redhead's face.

"I'm sorry, that was so, so out of line," Willow said, panicking, an overwhelmingly distressed look on her face. "That was so rude, and thoughtless, and I should go-" Willow stood up abruptly, dropping the water on the floor, the bottle bouncing once and liquid flying everywhere. "Damn it..." Willow said under her breath, immediately bending down and righting the bottle, looking wildly around for something to wipe up the mess. She grabbed a box of tissues from the desk and ducked down, sopping up the mess on all fours, her face hot. Tara remained frozen in her chair.

The blonde's mind spun. It had been so long since she had thought of Jill, and for Willow to just bring it up like that... Tara shook her head, trying to bring some sort of coherent order to her thoughts. She looked over the desk after a long moment lost in a flash of memories and panicked when she didn't see Willow. Did she leave!? Tara stood abruptly and immediately caught sight of Willow's form, hunched over on the floor, trying to clean up the water with a few soggy tissues.

Tara quickly moved around the desk, grabbing some paper towels from atop the fridge, before kneeling down to help Willow. The girl's movements were frantic, and her face was bright red. "Here, let me help," Tara said, pulling off a few squares of towel, pressing them into the wet floor.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, that was so inappropriate and-" Willow stopped when she felt Tara's hand close around her own.

"It's okay, I-" Tara stopped, trying to think of the best way to word her thoughts. "I just haven't thought about her in a really long time. Kinda weird to hear her name, you know?" Willow nodded dumbly, not daring to look up. "But it's okay, to bring her up? It doesn't bother me."

Willow slowly looked up, seeing Tara's caring eyes staring back at her, a gentle half-smile on her lips. "Really?" The redhead asked tentatively, hoping beyond hope this wasn't her mind playing tricks on her.

"Really," Tara said quietly, again squeezing Willow's hand. The door opened and Marissa entered, stopping to take in the two girls holding hands, before they let go and went back to mopping up the floor.

"Spill something?" Marissa said, crossing to a stack of papers on a back table.

"Just some water..." Tara said, finishing up. She took the tissues from Willow with a reassuring smile and after standing, threw the mess of wet paper into the trash.

Willow looked at her watch as she stood. "I should go..."

"I'll walk you to the door," Tara said. Willow nodded, numbly.

"Good to see you again Willow," Marissa said over her shoulder, digging through yet another pile of paper.

"You too," Willow replied automatically, walking out the office door. She walked in silence with Tara to the main door, only stopping when she felt Tara's hand on her arm.

"Are you okay?" Tara asked softly.

"Just embarrassed," Willow replied honestly, looking down at her feet, her face flushed.

"Don't be," Tara said, reaching forward and taking Willow's hand. "It's not a big deal. I promise." Willow looked up and slightly smiled, and Tara smiled widely, before squeezing and dropping Willow's hand. "So dinner? Wednesday?" Tara asked, hoping to lighten the mood a bit before the redhead left. "You can pick out whatever you want to eat-"

"We'll pick it out together," Willow interrupted, nodding slightly. Tara nodded in reply, her voice caught in her throat.


"Okay, better go..." Willow said, although her body language indicated she'd like nothing more than to stay. "Have some buses to catch." Tara nodded, opening the door wide for Willow. "Bye," Willow said with a soft wave as she exited, Tara smiling behind her.

The blonde watched as the redhead disappeared into the bustling crowd, and closed the door. "Bye..." she said to herself, turning to walk back to the office. She rubbed her hands across her face, realizing with great consternation and dismay, that a sliver of hope had returned. What happened to taking 'time' and asking her to move out, Tara... The blonde sighed, confused to her core, and closed the office door behind her, grateful that Marissa was off talking to someone on the gallery floor.

Continue to Neverland Chapter Twenty

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