Return to Neverland Chapter Thirty-Four


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. Some lines borrowed from the episodes 'Living in Fear' and 'I Was Made To Love You'. Willow's songs in order: 'Saint Simon' by The Shins and 'Little Dawn' by Ted Leo and The Pharmacists. Tara's Rachel's album, 'Music for Egon Schiele'.

Willow was a nervous wreck.

She had given Tara her 'Real Me' playlist. Just, put it on a CD and burned away, without thinking about any of the consequences. Why didn't I just say, 'here, Tara, have a musical passport to my brain', Willow grumbled nervously, moving her mouse to the playlist again so she could review the song order for the thousandth time that day. It had seemed okay last night, she had even volunteered the playlist, but now, now that she was stuck upstairs knowing the blonde was downstairs, most likely listening, quite possibly analyzing... The redhead shook her head and typed a brief answer into a flashing instant message window before hitting send.

Tara had entered her room, freshly showered and glowing, holding the CD Willow had made her the night before. Her pointer finger poked through the hole in the center of the disc and her thumb rested on its edge. She held her almost empty cup of coffee in the other hand, and asked with a laugh if Willow would refill it when she couldn't accomplish the task herself. The redhead did as asked, making a joke about it being a good thing that the blonde had stopped in just then, as she was just about to finish the pot. Then I said something about her shower... Willow thought, flushing red. Was it weird I knew how long her shower was?

Willow had listened as the blonde descended the stairs, the redhead's door open wide and her music one level above mute. She killed the sound altogether as she heard Tara close her studio door behind her. About five minutes later, Willow could hear music thudding through the walls, it's clarity dampened by the plaster and insulation. She couldn't hear clearly enough to identify the music, couldn't tell whether it was her CD transmitting or something else. The redhead stood and walked out into the hall, and then part of the way down the stairs. She made it to the turn in the stairwell before she recognized the crescendo of the guitar, the plaintive wail of the singer's voice in Charmless. She smiled and then turned and darted up the stairs, like a kid almost caught peeking at parents wrapping presents when she heard movement from the studio.

The redhead rushed into her room and sat in her chair. She quickly stood and gave a little hop and then sat again, a large smile on her face. Tara was listening to the CD. The smile quickly faded and gave way to a worried frown. Does she like it? I mean, okay, only the first song, but, will she like it? What will she think? What if she thinks all of the songs were dumb, and by extension, that I'm dumb, the redhead thought anxiously, standing and pacing as she twisted her fingers. Or, what if the blonde thought that the lyrics were trite, the sentiment mawkish. Willow thought about some of the songs on the CD and groaned. Why didn't I just give her Buffy's playlist?

Willow went back to her computer, forgetting about the sound coming from below as she dove back into her work and her various IM conversations. Her concentration was broken nearly thirty minutes later when the music from downstairs increased in volume. She stood, and twisted her fingers. She could hear the thudding, but couldn't place the tune. Was it one of hers? Which one? She again went out onto the stairs, and two steps down identified the song. The 'sex song', she nervously thought. Well, one of them anyway... she amended with an embarrassed internal groan. Tara turned up the 'sex song'? The song was already more than half-way over, the buzz saw of the distorted electric guitar carrying through the house. Willow swallowed.

What is she thinking? Does she think I'm a total perv, or weirdo. Is, is she... maybe, possibly, a little, you know, turned on, by it...? The redhead closed her eyes, listening to the cacophony of sound, feeling the song settle low in her belly. The song always did something to her, and she wondered if Tara was feeling the same way. The first couple of bars of the next song came on and the music abruptly cut out. Willow's eyes went wide and she quickly scampered back into her room, she hoped quietly, in case the music stopped because Tara was on her way out of her studio and up the stairs.

Willow tried to get back into her work, her eyes anxiously darting to the stairs from her seat, and after she didn't hear the studio door open or Tara moving about the main room, she sighed and attempted to relax a bit. She clicked on the playlist and again reviewed the songs. Her eyes settled on number eighteen, the last track and she took a shuddering breath. You had to give her this playlist... 'Real Me'. What had I said, that they spoke to me? Made me fluttery? Willow clicked on the text icon in the dock and then opened the most recent file. 'Real Me Lyrics'. She read over the words, her heart beating fast and the color in her face rising. She had never shared these songs with anyone. Not Buffy, not Xander... 'Real Me', was the real Willow. Gay, in-love-with-Tara Willow. And now she was sharing that girl, the real her, her emotions with the object of her affection. She shook her head and closed the text file. She returned to the playlist and double clicked on the song Tara had cut off, clicking on the halfway mark to bypass the beginning of the song.

'Mercy's eyes are blue, when she places them in front of you, nothing holds a roman candle to-'

Willow cut off the song and double-clicked on another in her main song library, a relentless guitar riff pouring out of her small speakers. You're reading too much into this... Willow told herself, minimizing the iTunes window and getting back to work. It's just music, she's probably not even paying attention to the lyrics... The redhead took a sip of her cooling coffee and began to nod along to the persistent tune. Just, chill out.

At exactly 12:30 a reminder window popped up in the left corner of her screen. She saved her work, closed the reminder window and stood, wiping her hands on her jeans. Maybe she should stall, wait a little bit. Don't want to seem too eager or oddly punctual... She went to the bathroom, and then made her way down the stairs slowly. It wasn't until she entered the main room and stepped to take a left into the short hallway toward the studio that she heard music. She stopped just outside the studio door and frowned. It wasn't her CD. She did a quick calculation, figuring that if Tara had listened to the CD from start to finish she'd be on the seventeenth track. It sounded like the blonde was listening to... classical music?

Willow tried to push aside her disappointment as she brought her hand up to softly knock on the door.

Tara stood before the canvas and concentrated on the movement of her hand. Sharp strokes with a fine brush, whisps of thin white paint dragging through the light base layer of frosty blue below. She periodically dropped the thin brush down into a small jar of turpentine on the easel's tray, then dried the bristles on a stained towel that hung from her waist. Then it was back into the white blob on her palette and across the canvas. Half of the canvas was covered in blue, the other half bare, untouched and white. The haunting lull of the music she was listening to blended in with the heavy rain beating against the large windows behind her and she worked without conscious thought.

She had set up her easel in the middle of the room as always, with her back to the window, in the mad hope of getting as much natural light as possible. The gray skies outside weren't obliging however, so she had turned on the overhead lights. If she looked beyond the canvas she could see three examples of her older work hung on the wall; if she turned her head to the left she would see the door. She did neither however, so focused was she on the work in front of her.

It had taken her nearly fifteen minutes to cool down from her experience with Willow's CD. The first five were spent on fire in front of her canvas, the next five spent thinking about the unsexiest thought she could manage, Xander, and then the last five trying to rein in her anger at the man for hurting Willow. The songs on the CD were undoubtably for him. The longing, the need, the pain... if she allowed herself to think about it she would flare in anger again, so she didn't, instead concentrating on the paint and the instrumental CD softly filling the room.

The soft rap at the door pulled her from her tunnel vision and she sighed. Lunch. She turned slightly and called over her shoulder, "come in," as she continued with her quick strokes. She felt the door open before she heard it, a slight gush of wind traveling in around the opening wood and her left side of her body burned when Willow entered. How does she do that... Tara wondered, the once suppressed thrum in her lower belly returning.

Willow opened the door wide and saw Tara standing in the middle of the room, her right hand raised and moving quickly in front of the canvas. The rectangle was angled diagonally, but she could see blue and she quickly averted her eyes in case the work was private, choosing instead to let her gaze wander around the room quickly. She had never been inside of Tara's studio, only seen it from the doorway once during the grand tour month's ago.

Tara had never said the space was off-limits, but Willow had assumed it was. That it was the blonde's special space, where she escaped from the outside world and let go, her nascent creations kept away from the world's prying eyes. Like a mad scientist, Willow thought as her wide-eyes took in the mounted art on the wall to her left, the canvases on the floor leaning against the wall below the large window to her right. Only, not mad, or a scientist...

She stood a foot inside the doorway and waited expectantly for the blonde. The music was definitely classical, but not Mozart or Debussy. It had a more modern feel to it. Like the Kronos Quartet, only more accessible. Sort of sullen, but soothing, in an uplifting, creepy, haunting sort of way... the redhead thought, noticing how well it matched the gray skies outside, the water running down the window's glass.

"Lunch time already?" Tara asked, briefly looking at the redhead standing just inside the archway. Willow snapped her eyes up to look at the blonde's profile and tapped her watch.

"12:30. Well, 12:34, actually, but you know, what's, four, measly minutes." Willow shifted her weight quickly. "Are you not hungry yet, cause I could come back-"

"No, I am," the blonde said reassuringly. "I just, I just started this layer though, would sort of, like to finish it before I take a break."

"Oh," Willow replied. "Do you want me to come back...?" She asked, not especially wanting to leave.

"No..." Tara replied, hoping her voice didn't carry the desperation she felt, the desire for Willow to stay, to share her space. "I mean, you can stay and keep me company if you want," the blonde amended, hoping the redhead took her up on her offer. "I'll only need another fifteen minutes or so."

"To finish the whole painting?" Willow asked, her eyes moving to the side to take in the mounted paintings again.

"No, just this part," Tara said with a hint of mirth, seeing the redhead's nervous gaze march around the room from the corner of her eye.

"Oh," Willow said, her brow furrowing slightly in confusion.

"What?" Tara asked, noticing that the redhead was staring at the paintings on the far wall, although her mind seemed to be on something else.

"Won't the paint dry if you take a break halfway through?" Willow asked, turning her quizzical gaze back to Tara.

"No," Tara said with a slight shake of the head. "I'm working wet-" Tara bit her lip at the word choice and sighed quietly, missing in her own fog of embarrassment Willow's quick look to her feet and blush. "I mean," Tara started to clarify, hoping her own cheeks weren't impossibly rosy. "I don't have to worry about the paint drying super fast when I work with oils, because they don't... dry. If I was working with acrylics I probably wouldn't take a break... but with oils I can walk away."

"Oil paint doesn't dry?" Willow asked confused, her face flush at the idea of Tara working wet... She looked to the stereo, the violin, viola and piano floating along. Is it a film score... she absently thought, unable to place it, before looking back to the blonde.

"It does, dry, I mean, it just takes a long time." Tara looked down at her palette and pulled the brush across the surface to thin the paint on the bristles. "You can walk away from it and come back and it'll still be wet." Why do I keep saying that word?! she thought, the earlier arousal still lingering between her legs, flaring each time she inadvertently referred to it.

"How long?" Willow asked. "I mean, how long does it take to dry?"

"Depends," Tara said. "I know that sounds really vague, but... different colors dry at different speeds; and when I say dry, that's not exactly true, the paint, it um, it has this process of oxidation, where it sort of-" She cut herself off and smiled apologetically at her feet. "I'm boring you."

"No, I- Big chemistry nerd here," the redhead said, pointing at her chest, genuinely interested in what Tara was saying. "So, you're saying the paint oxidizes instead of evaporates?"

"Yeah," Tara said. "Because there's no water, it's just, oil. You have to be really careful with the fat to oil ratio, or else the paint will crack, there's a whole bunch of, weird, chemistry involved... Because it doesn't 'dry', per se, it stays" dear god "wet, malable for a long time, anywhere from between 12 hours and six days." She moved the brush across the canvas, suddenly noticing and enjoying the effect she was accomplishing with the thin brush. "That's why I like working with oil, you can go back to a painting and change things, fix things later... acrylics you have to have an idea and the means to execute it before the paint dries, you can't go back into it."

Willow thought about that for a moment. "So you can take breaks and stuff when you work with oils, but not with acrylics."

"Right," Tara said with a smile. "Sadly, I think this is the only painting I'm going to be able to do with oils for the LA show though, the rest will have to be acrylics. I'm sort of, running out of time."

"When do you have to be done?" Willow said, her fingers interlaced, her weight rocking forward onto the balls of her feet slightly.

"I'm supposed to hand over the paintings to Marissa next Thursday so she can ship them. So, if I do any other oil works I should be finished by Wednesday of this week at the latest... but, even that's cutting it close." She sighed, wiping the brush against the towel covering her thigh, then dipped the bristles into the paint. "I won't be able to apply a varnish before they ship... it's going to be tricky."

Willow nodded. The new song was a violin and a piano playing alongside each other, occassionally breaking off to compete before returning to the same notes. "What are you listening to?" The redhead asked, trying to hide her disappointment that it wasn't her CD, but curious about the music all the same.

"Rachel's," Tara replied without looking up.

"Rachel's... what?" Willow asked, wondering who this Rachel girl was and whether she had provided the CD.

"Rachel's," Tara said with a soft giggle. "It's a band, or I guess, a modern chamber orchestra, quartet, trio... I'm not sure how many people are in the group." She flashed a lopsided grin at Willow and continued. "Some people call them 'modern classical', others 'post-rock'. This is their fourth record." Willow nodded and Tara paused, then took a quiet breath. "I was listening to your CD earlier..."

Willow nodded her head and offered a slight, tense smile. "It's okay if you didn't like it," she said, bowing her head slightly and shifting her weight. "I know it's not for everyone."

Tara frowned slightly. "I did like it," why did she assume I didn't... "It was just... distracting." Willow looked at Tara, her brow furrowed slightly and the blonde racked her brain for the words to describe why she had stopped listening, without actually describing why she had stopped listening. "The lyrics?" The blonde began. "The imagery was so... vivid, it was kind of, flooding my brain," and other parts, she thought ruefully. "I was um, overwhelmed, with ideas. You know, things that I wanted to paint? So I had to put something neutral on so I could actually work." The blonde nodded to the desk. "I have a whole page of jotted down notes though from the first handful of songs."

"You took notes?" Willow asked, a warm smile on her face. That sounds like something I would do...

"I didn't want to miss gems like, 'spill water like love'," Tara said with a smile. "I might be able to paint that you know..."

"Yay," Willow said, her eyes drifting back to the paintings to her left, their brilliance popping off the canvas and the white wall beneath them.

"I just need another fifteen minutes or so to finish up..." Tara looked up briefly and saw the redhead looking at her work and her stomach fluttered. She loved how Willow looked at her paintings, and she hoped the girl would want to spend time looking at these. "You can... come in all the way you know, if you want to look at the paintings..." She nodded to the mounted works as Willow turned to her for reassurance. Tara smiled warmly and Willow smiled back.

"You're sure?"

"Definitely," Tara said with a bob of her head. "Please," she added, watching as Willow nodded and walked more fully into the space.

"Hey, you have a sink," Willow said as she noticed the basin tucked into the corner and pointed with her interlocked fingers.

"For my brushes, and, well me," Tara said, smiling at Willow's profile. "I can get um, a little messy."

The redhead smiled and came to a stop in front of the wall, letting her eyes wander over the three paintings, a large gap indicating there should be a fourth, second from the right. Before she could ask about the space, Tara said, "t-that's where Fillmore usually goes."

Willow turned and smiled, nodding before turning back to the work. She started with the painting on the far left, a bright explosion of sky blue and yellow, a few dabs of gray in the middle. The gray dabs were like words, but unreadable. I wonder what it's called... the redhead thought, not daring to ask the blonde, knowing that if 'Fillmore' was part of this set, the names of the others would probably be closely guarded secrets. Tara sharing the title 'Filmore' at the gallery had been a gift, a token of appreciation in return for the bracelet, and to ask for the others' names... Willow thought that would be asking for too much. Assuming too much of their burgeoning friendship.

The redhead moved on to the next painting, a bluish purple, lighter blue smudges dotting the space, a few bits of white sparkling through the thick paint. Like the night sky... Willow thought, thinking that perhaps the little dobs of white were stars. It has same colors as the night sky anyway... After another long moment, she moved on to the last painting, a simple red line, squiggling across the gray background, a burst of yellow shining in from the top-left corner, changing the shine of the red line as it whipped across the space and faded into nothing before the right edge of the canvas. It looked like it was moving, alive and Willow stood transfixed.

Tara watched her roommate as she worked, her blue eyes darting from the canvas in front of her to the redhead. On the one hand, she felt an incredible warmth in her chest, seeing the obvious care and enjoyment the girl took in looking at the work. On the other, the incredible warmth was situated lower, a reminder of her earlier daydream. The mixture of love and lust... it was almost overwhelming. The jeans the redhead wore fit her well, accentuating the curve of her hips, her lithe legs. The blue sweater held her upper body like a cuddly hug and her red hair sparkled underneath the overhead lamps, differently than last night under the fairy lights. Last night there had been a halo of gold at the crown of her head, but today the red was pronounced, a striking mix of rust and vermillion. Tara cocked her head to the side as she stared, her mind trying to figure out the combination of colors she'd have to mix to achieve that vibrancy.

"These are beautiful." The awed voice pulled Tara from her thoughts and she smiled as Willow turned to face her. "I mean, so incredible."

"Thanks," Tara replied, dipping her head self-consciously as she tried to concentrate on the brush in her hand as it moved across the canvas. "They're a few years old."

"I really like them," Willow said softly, her eyes returning to the paintings. "They're emotional, like, they show emotions, or, make me feel emotion when I look at them." The girl frowned. Stupid... "That doesn't sound right..." she apologized sheepishly.

"No, it's-" Tara stopped and then started again. "There's no 'right' way to describe art; it is what it is to the person who looks at it." She paused. "I like your description." She saw Willow nod and she took a deep breath. I can't believe I'm about to- "The one on the left is called 'Pancakes'."

Willow was speechless. She... She nodded again, thankful her back was to the blonde, keeping quiet because she didn't trust her voice to hide how much it meant to her that Tara trusted her with the title. She turned back to the first painting, and couldn't help the frown, unseen by the blonde, that crossed her face. Okay... never in a million years would have thought breakfast food...

"There's a diner, in my home town?" Tara continued as she worked, not quite believing her bravery as she shared the title and the story behind the painting's creation. "It was across the street from the lodge my family ran. Lodge, more like cheap motel... I used to work there when I was in high school, the diner, as a counter waitress, part-time short-order cook. That's the sign that was out front. I c-called it 'Pancakes' because that was my favorite part of working there, making pancakes in the morning before going to school. I liked spending time with all the little old men who would come in for coffee..."

Willow smiled slightly as she looked at the work, imagining a young-Tara listening to some old man teasingly ask if the girl was single. The gray she had thought looked like words before probably were, a representation of the diner's name and the yellow and blue were a perfect example of an early morning sunrise in the mountains. "T-The second one, is called 'The Big Pineapple'," Tara said, her hand moving lower on the canvas, darting across the surface before dipping down into the turpentine. Willow took a step to her right to better look at the work. "That's the view of the night sky from Buffy and my old apartment, junior year. I've always liked stargazing but, the real names for constellations never made much sense to me so I sort of, have my own. The white, those are the stars, and the three along the bottom, that's the bottom of the pineapple."

Willow smiled as she put the stars together to form a new constellation, the form of a really big pineapple taking shape. "It's big."

"Hence the name," Tara said with amusement and a slight smile.

There was a slight pause as Willow continued to look at the painting. "I used to love to look up at the stars when I was little," she said, Tara turning her attention to the redhead's back as the girl spoke to the painting. "They're supposed to make you feel all insignificant but they made me feel like... like I was in space. Part of the stars." She turned to face Tara, the music making her feel oddly confessional. "It's one of the reasons why I went to MIT. I thought about majoring in Physics, becoming an astronomer, but then I feel in love with biology, and computers... plans sort of changed," she said with a slight smile.

Tara nodded. "I was going to be an English major. The whole idea of, majoring in painting seemed sort of silly."

Willow nodded. Tara smiled and nodded to the last painting. "'Ribbon'." Willow turned back to face the painting and her gaze followed the horizontal dancing red line. "I was standing on the corner of Van Ness and Fell one day, I can't remember what I was doing there, but there was a long, red ribbon tied to the lamppost. It was a really windy day, foggy, couldn't see more than six or seven feet and the ribbon sort of whipped out into the intersection, dancing up and down, the end getting lost in the fog. I missed the crosswalk light staring at it. It reminded me of that movie, 'Le Ballon Rouge'-"

"With the little kid that follows the red balloon through Paris," Willow said, turning, excited. "I love that movie."

Tara smiled warmly at Willow's childlike exuberence. "I couldn't get the image of the ribbon dancing out of my head, so about a week later I painted that."

Willow turned back to the painting and stared. Amazing how something so simple as a ribbon tied to a pole can inspire something so amazing... "Do all of your paintings have stories behind them?" She turned back to face Tara.

"No," the blonde admitted. "Sometimes it's just how the paint looks on the canvas. But most of the ones I keep have some story, even if 'story' is a little strong of a word. A moment. A spark." She smiled at Willow. "An emotion." The blonde thought of the painting over the fireplace in the main room, her pride and joy.

Willow smiled as she nodded and looked at a line of blank and smudged canvases along the wall opposite the door. "What are those?"

Tara looked at the canvases to her right and then back to her work. "Those are test canvases, and works I've started yet am waiting on to 'dry' before I add another layer."

"And the ones under the window?" Willow asked, nodding to the space behind Tara.

"Commissions, mostly. Stuff I've sold, but am waiting to dry, again," she said with a slight smile, "so I can apply a protective varnish..."

"May I...?" Willow asked, hoping the blonde would allow her to look at those works as well.

"Of course," Tara said with a nod, the redhead smiling at her and then walking past her to look at the paintings. She could feel Willow behind her, and after a couple of minutes, not being able to see her started to drive Tara nuts. She increased the speed of her brush strokes, hurrying along the process in the hopes of finishing sooner.

Willow looked at the six paintings, lined up in a row. The first five were similar, colorful splashes, much in the same vein as the ones in the gallery show. Beautiful for sure, just not as... intense, as the ones on the wall. The redhead took her time looking at the bunch, but stopped, confused in front of the last one. "Huh."

Tara's eyebrows arched when she heard the soft exclamation, and she twisted to try and see what Willow was looking at. The redhead blocked her view however, so she asked, "what?" Willow stepped aside, her gaze moving from the work on the floor to Tara, her face slightly confused.

"What's this one called?"

Tara looked down at the work, a bright, red, diagonal stripe dashed across an otherwise blank white canvas. Her jaw dropped slightly and she stared. She looked from the canvas to Willow and then back down before turning back to her work. After a slight pause she replied in an ironic tone, "'Confusing'".

Willow turned and looked at the work. "It's called 'Confusing'?"

"Yup," the blonde said, wondering why she had kept the canvas, or why she hadn't painted over the odd mark. Why is it with finished paintings, it should be over with the test canvases, the ones I want to do more work with...

Willow stared at the work, her eyes following the thick red stripe as it thinned and trailed off. It reminded her of a comet, and it was completely different from any other work of Tara's that she'd seen. After a long moment staring and contemplating, she spoke. "I like it."

"Yeah?" Tara asked, the disbelief and surprise heavy in her voice. She didn't dare turn around, instead continuing to paint as she wondered what the redhead saw in the streak of red.

"Yeah," Willow replied, her eyes following the line again. "It's different. Special, you know? Like, the red is unique. It sparkles... it doesn't need a bunch of fancy accents to be beautiful. It just is."

Tara thought about the words and her heart skipped a bit. She couldn't have described Willow any better if she had had all the time in the world and an unabridged dictionary. "Yeah..." she said, distracted by the redhead's words.

Willow looked down at the painting and then shrugged, turning to face the blonde. "I don't know, it's just, I like it."

Tara smiled and turned, intending to say something of little consequence but the words dried up in her mouth as soon as she saw the redhead beneath the last lamp against the window. "Don't move," she said, her voice urgent.

"I didn't do it!" Willow's worried voice replied. Tara's brow crinkled in confusion and Willow turned sheepish. "What... ever... you were going to say I did..."

Tara chuckled as she took in the redhead's twisting fingers and nervous stance. "You didn't do anything wrong," she said reassuringly. "It's just... hold on."

She rested her palette on the ground, leaning against one of the easel's three legs, and moved hurriedly to her case of paints on the floor by her desk. She pulled an older glass palette from the top section and quickly squeezed some paint along it's surface. Really low on titanium white, prussian green... going to have to go to Anya's tomorrow... she thought, the sound of the storm outside making the trip seem unbearable. She finished with the paints and then russled through her brushes, finding a medium flat brush. She wiped the brush against the rag at her waist, then grabbed a small, blank 5x7 inch canvas from against the wall. She moved quickly back to Willow's side, the confused girl watching her closely. Tara handed over the canvas, which Willow took without question. The blonde then stepped forward, stopping about six inches from the redhead. "Is this too close?" She asked softly, not wanting to make the girl before her uncomfortable, but needing the proximity to do what she intended to do.

"No," Willow croaked out, her eyes wide as she shook her head slightly. She watched as Tara's gaze focused on her right eye, shuddered slightly as she felt the blonde's breath touch her lips, the heat from the girl's body warm her own. "Uh, Tara?"

"Sorry..." Tara said quietly with a warm smile. "It's just, your eyes... they're an amazing color green under this light. I thought I'd try and capture it..." She pulled back slightly, the proximity to Willow causing her to tingle, causing her to be brave. "I mean, they're always amazing, but right now..." she said, leaning back in and fixating on the green. "Amazing." When she didn't feel Willow's exhaled breath on her cheek, she suddently worried about what she was doing and moved to step back, concerned. "T-This isn't w-weirding you-"

"No," Willow said, reaching out with one hand to grasp the blonde's forearm. She squeezed reassuringly, and pulled the girl toward her lightly. "I- I'm fine," the redhead added, dropping her hand from Tara's arm and clutching the canvas in her hands, the blonde stepping back towards her. "Just, nobody's ever used my eyes to color match before..."

"I'll be quick," Tara said with a lopsided grin, as she started to mix the paint on the palette between them. She alternated her gaze between Willow's right eye to the palette and back again. Willow was unsure where to look. If she looked straight ahead she'd be locked with Tara's gaze, and that was a little intense. She settled on looking around the room, her eyes flittering to the canvas on the easel to the desk, to the canvases on the wall to the floor. She heard a soft chuckle, and looked at Tara.


"Nothing, it's just..." Tara thought about what to say. "Even your eyes are fidgety."

"Sorry," Willow apologized and Tara shook her head.

"Don't be," Tara replied. "It's very you." She smiled broadly and went back to her work. "I like it..."

The CD across the room stopped and the noise in the room was reduced to the sound of the water against the window and the brush against the glass palette. Tara's entire body sparked, standing this close to Willow, feeling her gentle, even breath on her cheek, her lips, staring into her deep green eyes... it was heaven. She pushed aside any questions she might have, any lingering doubt or frustration and just enjoyed how close she was. How happy she felt. How fast her heart raced. After a long moment of near silence, Tara chuckled again, and this time Willow smiled slightly. "What?" The redhead asked gently, her eyes turning to look at Tara's.

"Nothing..." Tara replied softly, her eyes intently trying to capture the shade of green before her. "Just, your green reminded me of a poem. Kind of, a funny thing to think about, that's all..."

"My eyes made you think of poetry?" Willow asked amused, her heart fluttering.

And fireworks, flowers, sunshine... Tara thought with a soft nod. She smiled and Willow smiled back.

"Which one?" Willow asked, curiosity flooding her.

Tara chuckled softly again, debating whether she should say. She looked up and then down, then back up as she concentrated on studying the green and recited from memory, "the woods are lovely, dark, and deep..."

A large smile crossed Willow's face as she finished, "but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep." Tara grinned back at her and nodded her head. "That's my favorite poem," Willow said. "Well, the only one I really know, anyway. Sort of, a family thing." Tara quirked her brow and the redhead continued. "When I was growing up, my mom used to say, 'I have miles to go before I sleep' as kind of, an explanation for why she couldn't take a break from her work. I sort of, adopted it in college, you know, people would ask me if I'd be finished in the lab anytime soon and I'd say, 'no, I have miles to go before I sleep...'" Willow's brow creased. "It, it's not as depressing as it sounds."

"Doesn't sound depressing," Tara said. "My mom was the same way, only it was a different Frost poem. 'Two roads diverged in a wood'. She used to say that whenever I had to make a decision about something, like that was an answer in and of itself." The blonde smiled, her eyes darting down to the palette and then back up as she worked. "You know the painting of the birch trees in my room?"

"The one above the dresser?" Willow said, remembering clearly the watercolor of the bare, birch forest.

Tara nodded. "My mom painted that. On the back it says, 'I took the one less travelled by'." She smiled softly and looked down to the palette.

"I didn't know your mom was an artist..." Willow trailed off quietly.

"She wasn't," Tara said with a soft smile. She reached out and nudged Willow's wrist so that the girl would hold the canvas higher, just beneath her chin. "Or at least, she never thought of herself as an artist. Just, someone who would paint for fun when she had time..." Tara put some of the mixed paint on the brush and applied it to the top corner of the canvas, frowning slightly when it didn't match. "She was really good though..." she said, wiping the brush on the rag at her hip. "I sometimes wonder what her work would have looked like with a little training, if she had gone to school instead of marrying my dad, having Donnie and I..." The blonde brought her eyes back to Willow's and stared. "Your eyes are just incredible..." she said softly.

Willow stared back at Tara's, the blue. Here goes nothing... "Not as incredible as yours..." she said, her voice a little shaky. Tara smiled widely and brought her hand up, touching the underside of Willow's chin lightly.

"Tilt up a bit..." Tara said softly, the light catching the green better. "Thanks..."

"No problem," Willow said, holding her head up a bit. "I'm serious though..." she said, wondering where this momentary bravery came from. "The blue is... I've never seen it anywhere else." Tara smiled and ducked her head. "You should paint it..." Willow continued, a hopeful smile on her lips.

"Maybe I will," Tara said, looking back up, mixing a little more of the white into the green. "I could put the green and blue together in one painting, call it 'Eyeballs'." She smiled teasingly and put the mixture on her brush, and then onto the canvas. She painted a large square and smiled, stepping back slightly. "Don't move," she again instructed and Willow nodded. The blonde moved to her desk and found a beat up Hello Kitty hand mirror Dawn had given her four years ago, and brought it back to Willow. She exchanged the canvas in Willow's hand for the mirror, and moved to stand next to the redhead. "Hold it up."

Willow did as instructed, seeing her reflection. Tara brought the small canvas, with the green in the middle, up to rest next to Willow's face. The redhead was speechless as she looked from her eyes to the color on the canvas. She dropped the mirror to her side and looked at Tara with amazement. "How did you do that?"

Tara smiled brightly. "Magic."

Willow looked back into the mirror and then at the canvas. "That's so incredible..."

Tara shrugged, and took the mirror from Willow's hand. "Lots of practice." She moved and rested the new palette against the easel's other front leg, and then rested the brush in the easel's tray. "Hungry?"

Willow just stared in shock.

Fifty minutes later, the girls sat at the kitchen counter, empty bowls of soup and crumbs from their devoured sandwiches before them. "What do you mean you don't have a computer," Willow asked, her voice a mixture of amazement and accusation.

Tara frowned at the incredulous redhead sitting just to her right. "I mean, I don't have a computer."

"At all?" Willow said, her desperation and disbelief palpable. "I mean, like, not even an old one?"

"Have you ever seen me with a computer?" Tara asked, arching her eyebrows.

"Well no, but I thought that you just kept it in your studio." The redhead shook her head. "How do you email?"

"I use the computer down at the Internet cafe, or Marissa's down at the gallery, or Buffy's laptop..." the blonde shrugged. "I don't get much email so it doesn't really matter." She picked up her glass of water and took a sip.

"But, what about bills, how do you pay your bills?"

"With... checks..." Tara replied, looking at the girl out of the corner of her eye. Tenacious...

"And invoices?" Willow pressed. "I mean, do you write those out in crayon...?"

Tara rolled her eyes and swatted the redhead's jutting knee. "I have a CD with templates of all of my letterhead; I usually use Buffy's machine or you know, go to Kinko's."

"How do you keep track of people paying you?" Willow asked, the light swat not slowing her down in the least.

Tara looked Willow square in the eye and replied, "I have a ledger."

"A ledger?" Willow answered, her mind completely blown. "As in like a paper book? What are you, pioneer woman running the general store?"

Tara laughed loudly at that. "Not everyone needs a computer 24/7 Willow."

"Well, I know, but..." the redhead shook her head. "There's just so much stuff you can do with computers."

"Maybe so much you can do with computers... me, not so much." Willow looked at her quizzically. "I'm not, computer-inclined," Tara said, hoping her admission was enough to lull Willow into changing the subject.

"But that's silly, everyone is computer-inclined," Willow said with a shake of the head.

Guess not... Tara thought with an inward, exasperated sigh. She's like a pit bull...

"All you have to do is learn the basics," Willow continued.

"Says you..." Tara said with an arched eyebrow.

"Tara, you could have a database with all of your clients information, their sales history cross-referenced, their invoices and billing information synced to your bank, you could have all of the slides you have of your paintings scanned in, a web site showing them, with information on your next gallery show..."

"You can do all that stuff with a regular computer?" Tara asked, skeptically. Willow nodded emphatically and Tara took a deep breath. "I don't know..."

"So you just don't like computers," Willow said. That's the only explanation...

"No, it's not..." Tara paused, turning to face Willow, bringing her hands up to help explain. "I like them, I just don't get them. You know? Like, I go online sometimes, and everyone has really bad spelling and it's... depressing."

"But that's just the people online, that's not the computer's fault..."

Tara chuckled. "I know, I just..." She sighed. "Anya tried to show me last year-"

"Well there you go," Willow said, before biting her tongue. "I mean. She seems... it just..." Tara's eyebrows raised. "I could show you, if you wanted," the redhead offered, sincerely.

"Maybe," Tara said with a nod of her head. "Just... know before hand if you do decide to tutor me in all things computer that you're getting a really horrible student."

"I highly doubt that," Willow said with a smile and a roll of the eyes. A pause settled between them and Willow fingered the edge of the counter. "I sort of, have a, small, confession to make," the redhead said, and Tara looked at her.


"Yeah..." Willow said, dipping her head. Tara's eyebrows knit as she looked at the girl suspiciously. "You know those people online that can't spell?"

"Yeah..." Tara drew out.

"I'm one of them." Tara laughed and rolled her eyes disbelievingly. "It's true!" Willow insisted when Tara clucked and looked at her skeptically. "I'm a horrible speller. I can't spell anything without spellcheck."

"Somehow I sincerely doubt that..." Tara said, standing and picking up their plates, and then moving around the bar into the kitchen.

"Oh, it's true," Willow said as she hopped down and followed the blonde into the kitchen. "I used to be really good, like in elementary school I won the school's spelling bee, but I think I got lazy with all of the computer auto-correcting and stuff. If you look at my internet bookmarks,'s number one in the queue. Everything is done in acronym anyway. Ty, wb, wtf..."

Tara looked over her shoulder, doubting the girl's words, as she put the dishes in the left side of the double sink and handed Willow a dish rag. "I don't believe for a second that you can't spell."

"I've spelled my own name wrong before," Willow said, taking the rag and watching as Tara plugged the drain, added some dish soap and turned on the hot water. "Just this morning in fact. Was typing along and added an 'e' to the end, for no good reason. Ye olde Willowe."

"Yeah, but that's the typing," Tara said, turning the water off and starting to scrub the dishes clean. "That's, your fingers, not your actual brain. Your brain knows how to spell Willow."

"I'm telling you, I can botch the simpliest word." Willow said, taking the first plate, turning on the water and rinsing it before drying it before putting it into the rack.

"I don't believe you," Tara said with a shake of her head and a slight laugh.

"I could misspell 'cat', Tara," Willow challenged.

"Okay, spell 'Tara'. Simple word; there are only three letters." The blonde frowned. "Well, there are four letters, but one is used twice so-"

"I get you." Willow said with a mischievous smile. "Tara, Tara... Can I have the language of origin for that word please?"

Tara quirked her brow, then a big smile blossomed on her face. Spelling bee... huh... "Irish or Sanskrit," she replied, looking down at the dishes she scrubbed. "Or is it Hindi..."

"Irish or Sanskrit or Hindi...?" Willow asked rhetorically, her face screwing up before she muttered, "well that's helpful. Are there any alternate pronunciations?"

Tara nodded. "Tar-ah," the blonde said, handing another dish to Willow to dry.

"Hmm... I don't like that as much," the redhead said, drying the dish and placing it in the rack. "Tara's much prettier." The redhead bumped her shoulder against Tara's with a playful smile and the blonde smiled. "Can you use it in a sentence?" The redhead teased.

"Tara thinks Willow is stalling." The blonde teased back as she arched an eyebrow and gave a bowl to Willow.

Willow laughed. "Okay, okay. Tara. T-A-R..." she pressed her lips together, trying to suppress a huge grin and Tara rolled her eyes. "A. Tara." She finished drying the bowl and put it in the rack.

"Blue ribbon for Ms. Rosenberg," Tara said wryly, handing over the final bowl to Willow to dry. She unplugged the drain and turned on the running water in her direction to wash the bubbles from her hands. Willow finished with her drying and put the final dish in the drainer, reaching out to turn off the water.

"So," she started, putting the dishrag onto the edge of the drainer to dry. "What are you going to do for dinner?"

"Oh," Tara said. Does she want to have dinner too? "I was going to have some of those left over enchiladas. I thought I'd try and start a painting with that green I mixed up, and the other side of the painting I was working on this morning is going to take a while-"

"No problem, left overs sound fine," Willow said with a reassuring smile. "I could probably use the time to get some work done, eat upstairs."

Tara nodded and they made their way out of the kitchen. They got to the stairs and Willow turned to the blonde. "Tara, what are you going to do with that little canvas, the one with the green?"

"Nothing," Tara said. "Do you, do you want it?"

Willow nodded. "That was just so neat...if it's okay-"

"Of course." Tara smiled and nodded for Willow to follow her into her studio. The redhead obliged and stopped next to the blonde in front of her desk. Tara started to hand the canvas over to her roommate when she stopped. She smiled and moved over to the easel, and after picking up the green tipped brush and dipping it into the mixture, she quickly signed her name on the bottom right corner. "There," she said as she handed it over to the redhead. "Now it's all, official."

"Thanks," Willow said. She thought about thanking the blonde profusely for letting her into her space and for sharing with her the titles of her paintings, thought about telling her how special she felt for inspiring the blonde to want to match her eyes... but the words, all of the words that she'd need to express the heavy emotion sitting in her chest, dried up in her throat. She smiled again as she looked at the canvas in her hands and looked up. "Thanks."

"No problem," Tara said softly, nodding as she watched Willow back up. The blonde moved back to her desk, opened her CD case and looked for something to listen to. "Oh, Willow." The redhead stopped and turned. Tara looked at the girl, her wide eyes waiting for her to speak, her shoulder square, offering up her whole body's attention. "Thanks for letting me stare at your eyes."

A huge smile exploded across Willow's face. "Any time," the redhead replied genuinely. She exited the room and slowly started up the stairs, looking down at the canvas in her hands. She stopped at the turn in the stairwell when she heard the opening strains of a familiar song, recognizing it as number nine on her 'Real Me' playlist. She smiled again and continued up to her room.

Continue to Neverland Chapter Thirty-Six

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