Return to Neverland Chapter Twenty-Three


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.

She really should pay attention.

After all, there was a reason why Marissa had called her in, had crammed all of the series' artists into the too-small gallery office for one last L.A.-show meeting. There were schedules to go over, shipping arrangements to make... and Tara wasn't listening to a word of it. Oh, she had tried. She had taken her place in the very back corner of the room next to the hot water press and coffee maker with every intention of becoming fully engrossed in each and every one of Marissa's words. She even brought a pad of paper and pen, ostensibly to take notes for what was sure to be a pivotal meeting. And then she had started to think about Willow.

The breakfast this morning, the revelation yesterday that evasive Willow was evasive to protect her feelings... I still can't believe it... Tara thought, remembering the wide-eyed, frightened look on the redhead's face when she explained her work. Willow developed bone scan software, software used to help better detect cancer, and she had been afraid that the mere mention of the work would cause the blonde pain. That it would remind the blonde of her mother in a way that hurt. Tara thought of her mother everyday, and apparently, so did Willow. How many times have I asked 'how was work'... and how many times did she just shrug and change the subject... Tara shook her head. Each shrug had been a conscious decision on the redhead's part to spare her pain. Unbelievable.

Tara looked up as she heard Marissa mention her sales tally. Twelve paintings sold, four installation spots in L.A.; Tara would need two new paintings for L.A. minimum. Tara nodded, and went back to her thoughts as Marissa moved on to the next artist. Willow, was worried, about her.

The only time she had spoken with Willow about her mother had been that day in the park. She definitely hadn't brought it up since, so whatever Willow thought of her, of how her mother's diagnosis and subsequent death affected her was almost certainly culled from that day. It had to be... Tara thought, unable to accept that the redhead would just assume from Buffy's almost definite third-party recital of her family history that hearing about bone scan software would be overwhelmingly upsetting for the blonde. That level of concern... it had to come from that conversation, from that day... The thought that Willow was protecting, in essence, her heart, for three years because of a simple conversation on a park bench simply bowled the blonde over. That that conversation had meant something to the redhead, that that day had meant something... And to think, Tara had been so hesitant about the dinner.

The blonde had intentionally prepared most of their dinner in advance of Willow's arrival home from work, just in case the 'other Willow' showed and wanted to forget their conversation on the stairs, wanted to simply eat quickly and rush up to her room. Tara had thought it seemed like a good plan when she was boiling the chicken... the sauce would only take a few minutes to prepare, so if Willow was in any way uncomfortable, regretting her words on the stairs, it would be over quickly. Of course, it hadn't worked out like that. There had been awkward moments, but for the most part things had gone well, their conversation on the stairs permeating each interaction, each shared giggle, each bit of comfortable silence. Last night was about becoming friends, good friends, even, and it had felt good, right, to just be together. But then, there was something else too... Tara thought, her brow furrowing a bit. At least, it seemed to the blonde that there might be something... more, going on.

Remembering the kind of bagel she preferred, that she liked spinach, buying her the bracelet... It was like Willow... liked me. Tara thought cautiously, perplexed. Like, liked me, liked me. The blonde sucked in a deep breath as the possibility sent her mind into a spin. But that's impossible, Tara reasoned, because Willow is straight and she loves Xander. Right? Tara shook her head as the reality of the ridiculous words sunk in. I mean, right. Right. Willow loves Xander. Tara exhaled a shaky breath she didn't know she was holding as she attempted to regain her equilibrium. No, a far more likely explanation for Willow's sudden attention was the simple reappearance of Tiny Jewish Santa.

'Tiny Jewish Santa'. It's what the redhead had called herself when she had bought Tara the small penguin keychain from the California Academy of Sciences' gift shop years earlier. God... Tara thought, momentarily amazed by exactly how long three years really was. That museum isn't even located in the park any more... She shook her head, returning her wandering thoughts to the redhead.

Willow was a generous person, both monetarily and emotionally, and this benevolence was just one of the numerous reasons why Tara loved the girl. For as long as Tara had known Buffy, the girl had received gifts from Willow; little goofy toys or drawings that the Boston-based redhead thought the petite blonde would enjoy. Nothing major, just little things that would make Buffy smile, stuff that showed how Willow was constantly thinking of her friend. Like the Buzz Lightyear Happy Meal doll Willow sent when Buffy had her wisdom teeth removed, or the hilarious stick drawing of a female bodybuilding competition, just because. Maracas, Tara smiled, remembering how Buffy had laughed though the tears when she had received that gift after her Riley-breakup. Buffy's desk at work was covered in chintzy toys that she had received from Willow over the years, each a small, physical example of the redhead's concern and care.

When Joyce was sick, Willow had mailed a care package to the Summer girls at the hospital. A book for Dawn, a yo-yo for Buffy and a beer-hat for Mrs. Summers. Tara internally chuckled, wondering what had been running through the redhead's mind when she bought and then packaged that red beer-hat. It had been such a welcome pick me up for the women; the whole thing costing maybe $20 including shipping, but then, it wasn't the 'stuff' that was important. It was the fact that they knew the redhead was thinking about them - each of them - and that mattered so very much more than the gifts. It was just so caring, so kind, so... Willow. Receiving thoughtful gifts from the redhead was just a part of being the girl's friend, and seeing as how Tara was now becoming Willow's friend, the fact that she was now receiving gifts didn't necessarily mean anything 'more'. Right?

What exactly are you thinking... Tara asked herself, looking up just long enough to make sure Marissa wasn't addressing her. Just say it: you think that... what, Willow has some sort of crush on you? Tara snorted dismissively and then looked up mortified as several heads turned to take her in. She reflectively coughed to cover, patting her chest, an action which drew even more attention.

"You okay?" Marissa asked from the front of the room, concerned.

Tara's eyes went wide. "Uh huh," she said, clearing her throat, the entire room looking at her. "Just... um, b-breathed... wrong..." Tara trailed off, confusing herself with the words. 'Breathed wrong?' Marissa gave her a look and then went back to talking, the various women around her returning their attention to the frizzy haired woman at the front of the room.

'Breathed wrong?' Tara thought again incredulously, looking down at the pad of paper in her lap, a blonde curtain of hair covering her bright red blush. She shook her head, and remembered why she had made the original noise. Willow, with a crush on me... Tara shook her head vigorously. No, no, that's just... w-wishful thinking, Tara... First, there was the fact that Willow was straight. Second, there was Xander. Wasn't there?

And besides, it wasn't like the redhead was doing things someone with a crush would do. Friends, Tara, she told herself, she's doing what friends do. Willow wasn't... making excuses for them to spend inordinate amounts of time together; after all, it's not like the redhead insisted on staying up with her to do the dishes although she did go and get me breakfast this morning, apologizing for not helping out more, and it's not like Willow complained about not spending more time cooking together although maybe that's why she invited me to dinner tonight...?

Tara shook her head, looking for more reliable evidence of her and Willow's budding platonic friendship. Well Willow definitely wasn't touching her all the time. Like you touch her... Tara blushed ruefully, hoping Willow didn't think she was too, touchy, with the constant hand squeezing and touches. Besides, even if the redhead did touch her... Buffy touched her all the time, and Buffy didn't want her romantically, despite what Anya thought that one time. And there's that whole, in-love-with-Xander and being straight thing. It always comes back to that... Tara sighed and let her eyes drift around the room until they inadvertently settled on the girl sitting about five feet in front of her.


Morgan was the kind of girl Tara would have had a huge crush on in high school. She was beautiful, with dark wavy hair, a healthy tan and an athletic, yet curvy, build. And it wasn't just looks. The girl was outgoing, friendly, funny... basically all the things Tara had thought herself incapable of being in her teens. Morgan... well once upon a time Morgan would have closely resembled, if not been, Tara's idea of 'the perfect girl'. In fact, hadn't she once told Willow that a girl like Morgan was what she wanted in a girlfriend? Brunette, olive complexion, artistic...

So what changed? Morgan was everything Tara once wanted, but Tara found that she didn't want the girl, at all. When she looked at the brunette, there was no spark, no stomach flutters, no wondering if today would be the day they'd talk. Had that ideal really changed in the last six years, disappeared? Tara suspected she knew the answer, that the only reason she wasn't finding Morgan attractive now was because she wasn't Willow.

Tara looked down at her pad of paper and began to doodle an ornate 'M' on the page. What would Morgan be like as a girlfriend... Would she bring me blueberry bagels? Remember that I like spinach? Try and protect my feelings if she had the slightest inkling that something might hurt me... Maybe not... maybe those were things that were exclusive to Willow. But one thing was for sure; Morgan would be able to give her things Willow couldn't, like physical affection and possibly a romantic partnership. Kisses, waking in someone's arms after making love, children... Tara wanted those things, and knew that no matter how much she wished differently, Willow would never be able to give her that. The redhead was straight. She loved Xander. Comparing Willow to Morgan was ridiculous; it was essentially comparing a dream to a reality.

Maybe I should go on date with Morgan, Tara thought, shifting her arm to better be able to fill in the 'M'. After all, she had heard dates were fun (never having gone on one herself). A date. She could go on a date with Morgan. Going on a date wouldn't mean they'd move in together, or proclaim their undying affection for one another at the end of the evening. They wouldn't even have to kiss. It'd just be a date, a chance to go out, see what it felt like to go out to dinner with someone who might just desire her. Want her, as more than just a 'good friend'. Simple, harmless and fun.

So why did the mere thought of going on a date with Morgan make Tara feel like she'd be cheating on Willow?

Tara looked up as the meeting ended, some of the artists leaving right away, a few milling around and talking. I really hope I didn't miss anything important... the blonde thought guiltily as her eyes quickly scanned the crowd, the blue orbs growing wide as she recognized Morgan walking straight toward her. Okay, be friendly. Tara thought nervously, the brunette getting closer. If she asks you out, say yes. I mean no. Yes, no. No. Maybe... Tara momentarily frowned at her scattered, indecisive mind.

"Hey," Morgan said, stopping close to the blonde, smiling warmly.

"H-Hey," Tara replied a little nervously, shifting her weight and moving the pad of paper from one hand to the other.

"How's the breathing?" Morgan asked teasingly and Tara blushed, ducking her head before looking up and answering sheepishly.

"Fine. I'm s-sorry I haven't called-"

"Don't worry about it," Morgan said, waving her hand in front of her with a big smile. "You've probably been swamped, Ms. I've-Sold-12-paintings! Congratulations, Tara, that's really spectacular."

"Thanks," Tara said modestly. "H-How did you-"

"Only seven," Morgan answered with a shrug. "But then again, watercolor nudes aren't in big demand right now," she added playfully, and Tara nodded, for no other reason than she didn't have anything to say to that. An awkward moment of silence settled between them before Morgan spoke. "So, I was wondering if you had given any more thought to the party...?" She looked up hopefully.

"The par-? Oh!" Tara caught herself, blushing red in embarrasment. "I'm s-so sorry, I completely forgot. You must think I'm h-horrible..."

"It's okay, and of course I don't," Morgan said sincerely. "Like I said, I'm sure you've been really busy coming up with those two new paintings."

Sure, Tara thought, a polite covering smile on her lips. Cause that's what I've been doing since Sunday instead of obsessing over my straight roommate...

"It would be really great if you could come though," Morgan said in her best, most entreating voice. "Everything red," she smiled. "Red tamales, red martinis, people dressed in red, more or less," she joked. "It should be a blast." Tara opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a fast approaching Marissa.

"Hey," the frizzy haired woman said as she joined the discussion, squeezing in next to Tara to pour some hot water into her mug. "What are we talking about?"

"The red party at my place Friday," Morgan said, giving Tara a quick, hopeful smile. "I'm trying to talk Tara into coming."

"Oh you should go," Marissa told Tara, plopping a tea bag into her mug as she leaned into the counter, her thin, active frame inches from the blonde's side. "Michelle and I are going; color parties at Morgan's are always fun."

"I d-don't know," Tara said, feeling pressured, sandwiched between the two women. "I mean, I'll t-try and make it-"

"Try?" Marissa frowned, giving Morgan a wink before turning back to Tara. "What else do you have to do..." she challenged.

Tara was caught off-guard. What else do I have to do? You mean besides avoid Morgan because I can't decide if dating her would constitute cheating on my very straight roommate... "I have those paintings?" She half-asked, as she looked pleadingly between the two women.

"On a Friday night?" Marissa answered, eyebrows arched. "No, no, no..." The frizzy haired woman turned to Morgan. "Don't worry about it, she'll be there."

"Well I hope so," Morgan said, smiling sweetly at Tara. Marissa smiled at both girls, Tara looking down under the weight of the obvious gaze. "I'm just going to go talk to... someone, leave you girls to talk," Marissa said, trying to hide a smile, as she away quickly, sipping her drink as she crossed the room.

Tara and Marissa both watched the gallery owner leave, then looked back to each other, blushing and looking away when they accidently caught each other's eye. They both looked up at the same time, flashing the other an awkward, embarrassed smile. "That was subtle," Morgan said with a wide smile, and Tara nodded.

"As a n-neon sign," Tara stammered.

Morgan smiled at Tara for a long moment before she spoke. "I have to run," she said, putting the flyer with instructions on the L.A. show in her back pocket. "But I really do hope to see you Friday. I think we could have a lot of fun together."

"O-Okay..." Tara said, as the brunette brightened up a bit. "I'll try." Morgan nodded with a smile, and exited the office.

Party Friday... Tara thought, again shifting the pad of paper in her hand. Can I do this? I mean, Marissa and Michelle are going to be there, and I'm sure there will be other people I know there as well... just, what does she mean, 'we could have a lot of fun... together'... Tara looked down at the 'M' on her notebook, only to be confronted with a 'W'. What? Tara frowned at the letter. She looked back up at Marissa, blithely talking to a meek blonde on the other side of the room, and then to the door Morgan had just exited through. Tara quickly exited after the brunette, catching her at the door.

"Morgan!" The brunette turned around as Tara caught up to her, smiling at the sight of the blonde. Tara took a deep breath as she opened her mouth. Would you like to go out to dinner, maybe get a cup of coffee, or- "Can I bring a friend?" What?! Tara internally screamed.

Tara watched as Morgan's smile momentarily faltered before she recovered. "Sure," the brunette replied softly, a slight, polite grin on her face. "Is it... a friend, or a friend-"

"My roommate," Tara quickly replied, who I am in love with, she tacked on internally. "I don't even know if she'd be able to go, but..."

"The more the merrier," Morgan said, her smile brightening a bit. Tara wondered about that, and the brunette finished with a wink. "Especially if her sidekicking gets you there." Tara blushed and Morgan flashed her another wide smile before exiting to the street. Tara nodded, and dumbly looked down at the notebook in her hands, an 'M' staring back at her.

What am I doing... she thought, heading back to the office.

Willow was lost in thought as she sat on the BART train. Why don't I ever touch Tara? The thought had been bothering her all day, the memory of Tara's fingers trailing over her skin as they held each other close in her dream haunting her. Okay, so their fingers occasionally brushed together as they handed things to each other, and Tara touched her all the time, little hand squeezes, elbow pinches... So why did Willow act like she was contagious or something, keeping her hands most decidedly to herself? Think... Willow internally commanded. When was the last time you intentionally reached out and touched Tara?

The handshake at the gallery, Willow thought, disappointed. A touch that she had been instructed to make by her uncle. But what about other times... Willow scrunched up her brow as she searched through her mind for the memory of a simple touch. A nudge. A pinch. Anything. Nothing.

So just touch her, Willow told herself cavelierly. Well okay, not like, touch her touch her, she internally amended, but like, a little nudge if she says something funny, or squeeze her elbow or something as you walk side by side. Willow sighed. I mean, you touch Buffy all the time and it's not a big deal... you don't spend the whole day thinking about that... Willow noted rationally. But then, Tara's not Buffy...

Maybe tonight. She could work in a few brushes of their arms as they walked to the restaurant, maybe put her hand on the blonde's back if the sidewalk became crowded... Willow looked up as the train started to slow and stood, exiting when the train stopped and the doors opened.

I hope she liked the bagel... Willow thought as she took the escalator to street level. And I hope the latte wasn't completely cold and gross by the time she woke up... The redhead turned right as she exited the station and began the five minute walk to her home. And I really hope she wants to have dinner with me tonight...

The redhead had read up on the Thai place she had suggested in her note on the web today; it had received a good review from the Chronicle and most of the comments on the Yahoo city guide were positive. If the blonde didn't like Thai, Willow had researched several alternatives. Doesn't hurt to be prepared... she thought, mentally running through the list of the top ten casual restaurants in the city and the various bus and BART lines to each. She was determined to have tonight's dinner go smoothly; provided we're even having dinner... Willow thought as she unlocked her apartment's door on the street. Please say we're having dinner...

She entered their street entrance and climbed the first set of stairs, her heart pounding. She had no idea whether Tara would be home, if the reaction to her gesture this morning had been welcome, much less appreciated. Whether she'd be eating a bowl of cereal in front of her computer tonight, or a bowl of... something across a restaurant table from Tara.

Willow entered the apartment holding her breath, and exhaled when the blonde was no where in sight. The redhead tentatively called out, "Tara," as she closed the door behind her, and held her breath as the words bounced back to her off the walls. The blonde wasn't home. Willow hung her head and shuffled her feet across the floor as she slowly crossed the floor to the stairs. She's probably out with Morgan... Willow internally grumbled. That androgynous named, possibly gay bitc-


Willow's head snapped up and she turned to see Tara standing in the doorway. "Hey, I was just up on the roof." The blonde smiled widely at the redhead. "Ready for dinner?"

Willow smiled widely. "Yes," she replied, her heart expanding with joy, her slight frame relaxing. "Yes."

Continue to Neverland Chapter Twenty-Five

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