Return to Neverland Chapter Forty-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.
Notes: Lyrics from Elbow's song "Switching Off." Go 'head be going with it.
Thoughts in italics.

Willow shuffled down the stairs a little bit before 11, her baggy cotton PJ bottoms occasionally catching under the heels of her socked feet, her fingers barely peaking out from an oversized sweatshirt's long sleeves. A shower was sorely needed, but coffee was desired, and after the briefest of mental machinations as she exited her room, she let desire lead her. She had the slightest of smiles on her face, and her mind swam behind her clear green eyes, the result of an eclectic, eventful morning. She felt, well, she felt smug, for the adventurousness of probably the most vivid dream she had ever remembered, and impressed with her imagination for conjuring it up. Slightly embarrassed by how carnal she had been, yet hopeful about how bold she had seemed. And overwhelmingly, indubitably annoyed, that something so trivial as a poorly scheduled conference call had robbed her of more Tara time.

But that dream, the girl thought, blushing for what felt like the thousandth time since rising from bed. The dream had really come out of left field. I mean, really. The redhead had thought about toys before, but thinking, and doing, if even in a dream, were a little different. Previous mental exercises involving toys had been clinical and curious, with a dab of dubiousness. Would she like them? Would Tara like them? Would she ever get the nerve to find out? One thing's for sure, there was nothing dubious about her dream. The relaxed interplay between her and Tara, the feeling of being filled, roaming hands mapping her... Willow shivered. The teasing, being, and sharing-it had been pure bliss.

And then the stupid conference call...

She wasn't supposed to have inane conference calls for the next two week, she was supposed to have flex hours, and the freedom to work on her own as she saw fit. Darn those senior project managers, always meddling with their hysteria and, and, hysteria, the girl huffed. The email announcing the last-minute meeting had come as a surprise to her and Khalil the day before. Her first words as she read it off her phone had been "are you joking," with Khalil shaking his head in disbelief. They had thought all planning meetings would be shelved until they were back in the office, partially because they had been told that all planning meetings would be shelved until they were back in the office. This interruption, this, "emergency," as Robin, their overeager project manager put it, was a prime example of the one thing Willow hated about her job, had hated about every job she'd had since leaving college-there were simply too many meetings. It always seemed as though she was having to drop everything to sit in a room with 15 other equally peeved people to discuss something that, in reality, could be resolved by fewer people in less meetings with better planning and better execution. Logically, it made no sense, though, what's logical about working in an office, sometimes? Meetings, Willow had decided early in her professional career, were the only thing worse than someone burning popcorn in the communal kitchen.

The girl sighed and turned the corner, the great room at the bottom of the stairs coming into view. The call had been a disaster. From the beginning there was the embarrassment of being late, and then her bubbling, silent rage at having to suffer through yet another pointless discussion about a feature that nobody wanted in the final build of the software. If nobody wants it, why in the frilly heck is it there?! She had also found it almost impossible to fully concentrate on the things the disembodied voices were saying on the phone, as she repeatedly succumbed to little shivers from remembered snippets of the more erotic parts of her dream, and entertained a tickling thought deep in the back of her brain that she was supposed to be remembering something. Something important, something she told herself she'd remember as she drifted off to sleep the night before. The more she tried to pinpoint the thought, the more it flickered and faded, and she finally gave up, hoping that a cup of coffee and time would help coax it forward, and lure it into her conscious mind. Add to that that there was also something troubling her about the dream. Something about saying something? Saying what?

She shook her head to clear her mind as she approached the great room, her feet nearing the last of the stairs. She shoved all of her concerns aside and concentrated on her taste buds, which were practically screaming in anticipation of her first sip of morning joe. As she turned right and away from the stairs, she shot a look over to the kitchen and saw Tara busily making herself something to eat. The redhead smiled softly at the sight, before being racked by another dream-induced shiver, a phatom weight from a naked Tara pressing against her jammy-clad back. She exhaled to regain her equilibrium, and the blonde turned just in time to catch a just re-composed Willow.

"Hey you," Tara said with a warm smile, the sight of the redhead still in her PJs making the blonde snicker internally. Sleepy head...

"Hey," Willow said, smiling warmly back, a self-conscious hand brushing up into her hair, making sure there were no fly-aways dancing above her head. The blonde wiped her hands on a nearby towel and then held up an empty coffee cup with a questioning gaze; the redhead smiled and nodded in the affirmative, and made her way into a seat at the bar, as Tara went about making her her badly needed first cup of morning coffee. "Looks like another beautiful day," Willow said as she watched Tara work, her eyes taking a moment to fully scan the busy girl's profile.

A small, half smile tugged at the corner of the blonde's mouth. "Um, if by beautiful you mean very blah, then yes, yes it is."

"Unsurprisingly, I do," Willow confirmed with a wide smile, letting her mind drift a bit as Tara moved before her. How many times had she watched the blonde work in the kitchen? She shuffled through her vast mental catalogue. Cutting mangoes, pouring coffee, lifting a wood spoon to her lips to sip the luckiest broth in the world. She took in the girl's strong hands, soft hair, and as she made her eyes to the girl's face, she noticed bags beneath the blonde's bloodshot eyes, and a certain weariness to the artist's otherwise flawless skin. Willow's face turned quizzical at the new discoveries, and Tara looked up just in time to take in the redhead's furrowed brow.

"What?" The blonde asked innocently, reaching to her side for the small carton of half and half sitting next to the french press.

"Oh," Willow said as she sat straighter in her chair, definitely caught staring. "Nothing, I just, I guess I just noticed that you look kinda tired this morning."

The blonde couldn't help but laugh at the redhead's childlike tone, and she lightly touched her face. "That bad, huh?"

"No- No, not bad," Willow sputtered, panic sweeping her features as she vigorously shook her head. Way to go smoothy... "You look, good," better than good, "great, even, just, you know, a little on the sleepy side, that's all."

"Good save," the blonde said with a quick nod of her head, a delicious smile curling her red lips.

"Sorry," the redhead mumbled sheepishly as her shoulders slumped, recognizing in Tara's sparkling smile that the blonde thought her observation was amusing and not offensive. "No morning coffee means foot in mouth."

"It's okay," the blonde said, flashing a smile at the redhead. "I didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night..." Tara quickly mixed the half and half and the coffee with a small spoon, dropped in a cube of brown sugar, and handed the steaming mug to Willow. "Careful, it's hot..."

The redhead smiled as she took the mug. "Thank you." She quickly inhaled, cradling the very warm mug near her lips. Wonder why she didn't get much sleep? She pushed the question momentarily aside as the damp steam tickled her nose. "Oh, sweet coffee..." she sighed and took a healthy sip. Her face immediately twisted in pain, and she brought a free hand up to wave in front of her open mouth as she rapidly lowered the mug to the bar. "Hot, hot!"

Tara grimaced out of sympathy, then reached for a nearby glass and promptly filled it with cold tap water. "You know," she said as she watched Willow try to cool down her scorched tongue with large puffs of air and dual flapping hands, "the thing about hot coffee, is that it's hot." She handed the water to Willow, who took it eagerly. "Are you okay?"

"Mmmhmm," Willow replied, embarrassed, as she gladly took the offered cup of tap water. She sipped quickly and sighed happily, the noise escaping her lips sounding not unlike the hiss heard when dampening an ember-filled campfire. "Sorry," she said after another big swig of water, looking up sheepishly. "It was just, a little warmer than I expected, even, though you said 'careful, it's hot...' Did I mention I'm an overeager dummy sometimes?"

"You're not a dummy," Tara replied with a slight roll of the eyes, a warm smile gracing her lips before her brow knotted together in concern. "Are you sure you're okay though?"

Willow quickly did an inventory of her mouth. "Yup. See, no burned tongue." She flashed her tongue at the blonde, eliciting a hearty chuckle from the artist.

After a brief look down to the counter, and a moment of comfortable silence between them, the blonde went fishing. "It's kind of late for your first cup..."

Willow frowned slightly. "Stupid work. We had this big, mandatory emergency conference call at nine, then emails and IMs... kinda, dragged on longer than it should have."

"Emergency." Tara frowned as she picked up a slice of cut apple from a bowl to her right. "Everything okay?"

"Oh, yeah," the redhead said with a dismissive shake of her head. "It wasn't a real emergency, just a sort of, overeager project manager getting all spazzy about something that's not really worth getting spazzy about. Especially not at nine in the morning."

"Gotcha," the blonde said with a nod of her head, not really knowing the sort of overeager project manager Willow described, for lack of professional office experience, but eager to agree just the same. She took a bite of the apple and chewed thoughtfully.

"Didn't help that I slept in, either," the redhead continued, as she watched the blonde swallow, then pop the remaining bit of apple into her mouth. "Kind of a, jarring, wake up; made me sort of late to the call, which was a little panic-inducing."

Oh, no... Tara thought, lifting a hand to wipe the side of her mouth as she swallowed. "Jarring... because of a thud?

"A thud?" Willow asked, slightly confused as she put her hand around the handle of her coffee mug.

The blonde winced slightly as she spoke. "Yeah... you didn't, by any chance, hear a big thud this morning, did you?"

"No, I-" Wait a minute... "Oh yeah..." Willow's eyes went big and she nodded a bit. "I did-well I thought I did, but then... I didn't." The redhead's brow furrowed and she shook her head slightly, not quite sure herself of what she was saying, the puzzled look on her face matching the one across the bar. "See, I was sort of still sleeping... but not." Shaking it off, she asked, "what was it, the thud?"

"A plywood shipping crate," Tara replied, unsure if Willow had just answered that the thud did wake her, or not.

"A shipping crate? What was being shipped?" The redhead blew across the top of her coffee.

"'Fillmore' was delivered this morning, and the movers sort of, dropped the crate," the blonde explained. "I wasn't sure if you were awake or not, so I've kinda been worrying that it woke you up."

"Is the painting okay?" Willow asked, concerned.

"It's fine," Tara answered, with a smile. "But the thud, it didn't wake you up...?"

"Oh, no, sorry," Willow answered. That would have been naked you waking me up. "My alarm did. Well, my alarm did, eventually. I pressed the snooze button a few times..." She brought the coffee to her lips, ready for what she hoped would be a cooler sip.

So she *had* been pressing the snooze button... Tara thought with an internal chuckle as she watched the redhead take a cautious sip. "Good dreams?"

Willow choked as she swallowed, the question catching her unawares. Naked Tara pressing me into the wall, sweaty breasts rubbing against my back, fingers in tingly places! The redhead immediately blushed red, her eyes growing wide, and she coughed as she struggled to swallow all of the coffee.

"Still hot?" Tara asked, as Willow coughed again, noting with some curiosity that the redhead's cheeks had turned a deep shade of scarlet.

Oh god yes, Willow thought, remembering a fluttering kiss on her shoulder, the feeling between her legs. "Uh, no," she stammered after being clear of the coffee. "Wrong pipe." She gently patted her chest for effect.

"Are you okay?" The redhead silently nodded that she was, and the blonde wondered if she should continue. After a slight pause, she cautiously said, "so, good drea--"

"Sure." Willow bobbed her head and smiled slightly before looking down at her mug. So, so not going to share the content...

"Good," Tara said with a slight head bob of her own, still wondering about the bright blush on the redhead's cheeks. That was a fast answer... Curiosity getting the best of her, she asked, "r-remember any of it?"

"No," Willow answered quickly. "I mean, not really." She briefly looked up and met the blonde's gaze before quickly darting her attention to her hands. "Sort of, fuzzy." She took another long pull of the coffee, her eyes intently taking in the surface of the bar before her.

"Fuzzy..." Tara said with a nod, her own gaze dropping to the bar. "I had one of those Sunday night." She couldn't help but blush herself, remembering with some embarrassment how turned on she had been when she woke Monday morning.

Unless we were naked and doing stuff, probably not just like mine, Willow thought. The two's eyes momentarily met and they smiled before quickly looking away, the redhead looking back up as she finally noticed the blonde's empty coffee mug before her, and the near-full carafe to it's left. "So, you didn't get a lot of sleep last night... but you're not drinking coffee?"

"No," Tara said, shaking her head. "I um, I think my heart will explode if I have another cup." Willow quizzically looked again to the near-full carafe before her, and the blonde quickly continued, anticipating the redhead's next question. "I made that new pot a few minutes ago, thinking I'd have some, but then the smell kind of... just, it would be a bad, bad idea; four cups is enough already this morning." She leaned into the counter as she picked up another apple wedge. "It's actually a good thing you came down when you did, or else it would have gone to waste." She bit into the wedge and chewed.

Four cups-I wonder how long she's been awake... "So, not a lot of sleep and lots of coffee already this morning, huh?"

Tara nodded her head and swallowed, putting the remaining half of apple wedge back into the bowl. "I sort of, stayed up late painting, and then got up early to do some paperwork, deal with the delivery, busy work..." the blonde trailed off.

"How's the painting going?" The redhead asked optimistically, hoping to feel out the blonde's schedule for the day some.

"Good," Tara said with a confident nod. "If, I only had to send one painting down." She brought a thin hand to her stomach again, and exhaled shakily. "I'm almost done with one, but that still leaves three, and less than a week, so..."

"Three," the redhead repeated. So much for the big, grand gesture... the girl thought, her mind drifting to the envelope on her dresser. "And that's a lot..."

"Yes," Tara answered with a nod, not noticing the slight droop in Willow's shoulders. "I'm just trying not to assume crash position."

"I'm sorry," the redhead said sincerely.

"It's not your fault." the blonde sighed with a smile, before thinking, though, in a way... She shook her head slightly. "It'll get it done. I will, finish. I just, I have to keep thinking that."

"Very zen," Willow said with a soft nod of her head, noting how tense the blonde looked.

"Or, very naive," Tara answered with a dismayed shake of the head. "Or, silly..." After a brief pause, she said, "I talked to Buffy this morning..."

"Oh?" Willow asked with genuine interest.

"She said for me to tell you to call her, something about not talking since Friday..."

"Oh," Willow said, somewhat ashamed. She had been avoiding Buffy. She looked up to catch Tara's inquisitive gaze. "I uh, I guess I'm just surprised she said anything. I mean, we IM'd on Monday, and yeah, not the same as calling, but..." She trailed off and looked up again, a smidge of guilt in her eyes. "I've just been busy..."

"She sounded a little lonely," the blonde confided.

"Lonely?" Willow asked, her brow knitting. "But, she's with Dawn..."

"That's what I said, to her?" Tara answered as she shifted her weight. "I think, I think the vacationing is just starting to get to her a little bit." The blonde thought about mentioning Buffy's assertion that Xander was avoiding her, but thought better of it. "As much as she loves Dawn..."

"Right," Willow said with a slight nod of her head. "Okay, I'll, get in touch." She smiled nervously, suddenly dreading this semi-promise to call the petite blonde, remembering how Tara had encouraged her to call Buffy the day before when she worried if Xander and Buffy were fighting, and how she had subsequently ditched the idea out of fear. Maybe I can just send her a text message... It wasn't that she didn't want to talk to Buffy, she missed her, a lot, but... but what if I say the wrong thing, or we start to talk about Tara and she figures things out before I can tell her... Her stomach clenched. Five more days and Buffy would know. No, no, a text message would be just fine.

Tara watched the redhead as the slight girl seemed to be debating action in her head. The blonde began to wonder what was going on the busy brain across the bar, before thinking better of it. No thinking about Willow's problems today... remember? "Well," she said, standing and taking the bowl of apple wedges in her hand. "I better get back to the not getting enough done."

"Okay," Willow replied, looking up with a warm smile. "Good luck."

"Thanks," Tara said with a smile. She exited the kitchen with another smile for the redhead, and then exited to her studio.

Willow felt small in the big room as she heard the studio door shut, her mind washing with guilt about her avoidance of Buffy, and again she thought about the envelope on her dresser. Maybe if Tara got some work done early, if they happen to meet up later and the blonde seems bored... Though, after seeing how stressed she is this morning, what are the chances of that happening? Well, a little hope is better than no hope, the girl decided, blowing over the top of the coffee before taking another sip. "Oh, sweet, dangerous coffee..."

It was a little after two in the afternoon before Willow noticed she was hungry, and a little before three before she finally decided to listen to her rumbly tumbly and head down the stairs for an afternoon snack. She took the stairs untouched by her usual relationship concerns, her mind squarely fixated on an email a fellow developer had sent a half an hour earlier. She was a full three steps into the great room, and just a mere eight steps to the kitchen when she caught the sight out of the corner of her eye. On the couch, with a book spread open across her chest, was a dead-the-the-world-asleep Tara.

The redhead froze like the proverbial deer in headlights, her eyes wide, and she held her breath. After a long moment of impersonating a statue, she slowly breathed out, realized she was being ridiculous, and straightened up. Okay, she's asleep, not a dangerous criminal... Willow took a longer, more critical look at the sleeping girl; laid in front of her on the coffee table, and indeed next to her on the couch were several art books, and a thick three-ring binder containing what Willow knew to be slides of each of Tara's paintings.

The redhead's brow crinkled in thought. The blonde still looked exhausted, her eyes were still rimmed in shadows and her face was still slightly washed out. I wonder how long she's been out? The redhead thought, trying to remember when she had last heard movement downstairs. The artist slept soundly, her mouth slightly agape, her chest rising and falling with each deep breath. She was obviously oblivious to the heavy rain slapping against the windows, and the multiple lights shining down on her prone form. She was like a little kid, who after spending a day eating too much sugar and riding far too many carnival rides, crashes in the back seat of the family station wagon on the long ride home. Willow smiled slightly. It wasn't the first time she had seen Tara asleep and unguarded, open and beautiful. Indeed, the first time had been three years prior, after their day in the park. Willow sighed slightly, unwilling to let that memory take hold, still angry at herself for how she had acted that night. The redhead returned her eyes to the books surrounding Tara, and in particular, the one resting open on the blonde's chest.

The book looked like a scrapbook of some sort; pages bulged awkwardly out beyond the bindings, and snippets of what the redhead guessed was Tara's handwriting rose up from white pages, pages that were bent in awkward directions, peaking up beyond the black leather cover. Maybe it's a journal? The redhead thought, as she slightly craned her neck for a better look. Wonder if there are any mentions of me in it... she briefly pondered, before pulling a face and turning to slowly, and quietly, walk into the kitchen. Okay, vain much?

Willow shook her head slightly at her momentary ego trip, as she fetched a bagel from the bread box; she carefully removed a tub of whipped cream cheese from the fridge and smeared a healthy heaping on the already cut circle halves. That done, she carefully put the cream chesse away, and the knife in the sink, then wrapped the bagel in a napkin, and headed back to the stairs.

She stopped suddenly before stepping up. A part of her wanted to wake Tara from her sleep, as the blonde had done a couple of weeks before for Willow as she had laid sprawled across the coffee table, waiting to give the blonde the glass bead bracelet, but a greater part knew the artist could use the rest, and besides, she looked comfortable on the fluffy couch. Not, all awkward like I had been... Willow took another long look, appreciating the gentle noise escaping from the sleeping girl's parted lips, and the way the blonde's relaxed fingers cradled the open book on her chest. With a soft smile and a mental snapshot taken, the redhead disappeared upstairs, mindful of keeping her music off until she heard the girl below rouse from her slumber. It was kind of funny if you thought about it; when she had fallen asleep two weeks before, she had been trying to pinpoint Tara's style, and, from the looks of it, Tara had fallen asleep trying to do the very same.

She couldn't bear open her eyes. She let her brain drift back into consciousness slowly, her face a mask, the only indication that she was indeed awake a slight shift in her breathing and a building mental question about the time. After a long moment, the blonde opened her eyes with a flutter, and sighed deeply as she confronted the waking world. She had fallen asleep on the couch. She struggled to sit up more fully, the soft couch's pillows swallowing her movement and entreating her to remain dormant; in her struggle to sit up, the scrapbook that had been resting against her chest slid gracelessly into her lap, and she became aware of the books ringing her. She looked around the gray room, noting that the lights had been left on and that it seemed darker outside than when she had drifted off. Again, she expelled air from her lungs. Ugh. A yawn caught her quickly, and as she closed her mouth, she reached her arms high above her head, the cat-like stretch sending an involuntary tremble through her muscles and a slight squeak past her pursed lips.

She let her arms fall heavily to her side, then lifted her wrist to glance at her watch. 4:05... The girl groaned. She had inadvertently slept the entire afternoon away. Great. She had only meant to sit still for a few moments, review her work, review her notes, find something that could spark a new work, but then her eyelids grew heavy and her head lolled. She was just going to rest her eyes... give them a moment of relief... but then the somnific softness of her very fluffy couch cradled her head and she couldn't fight slipping away.

Three hours gone... The girl exhaled loudly, and with still tired eyes, she began to take inventory of the open books and binders around her. A thought suddenly crashed into her still sleepy brain and she winced. Willow... The artist groaned and scrunched up her face as she began moving the books from the couch to the table, stacking them haphazardly. Willow likely saw me passed out on the couch if she came down for lunch... The blonde innocently wiped her face, checking for drool, and relieved to find none, pushed her hands up into her hair, rubbing her scalp lightly as she pushed the whisps away from her eyes. After a long moment spent itemizing her body's readiness for movement, the girl stiffly stood and again stretched, her back popping in reply. She slowly made her way to the kitchen, and filled a clean cup with water from the tap. She took a long pull, swallowed, and sucked in a big breath before repeating the process. A half glass finished, she dumped the remainder of the water back into the sink, wiped and rinsed the glass, and placed it upside down in the dish drainer.

She again looked at the clock, this time a digital read on the microwave, and shaking her head, shuffled into her studio. She closed the door behind her and blinked as she flicked on the light, the space once again coming to life. A scan of the room confirmed her fears that no, fairies did not indeed come while she was dreaming forgotten dreams to finish her collection. She groaned again, and made her way to the basin in the corner, and the spare toothbrush she kept there. She put paste on the bristles, and then slowly brushed her teeth, the minty freshness helping her feel a little more alive, a little less zombie-like. She finished by cleaning the brush and taking a handful of water to her lips, swishing and spitting, then rubbing her slightly wet hand across the thigh of her pants.

She strolled more fully into the room, and looked to the large windows across the space. Drops slid down the collection of square panes, an oppressive gray filling every clear, shimmering centimeter. The past few days the rain had been a constant background. Sometimes she noticed it, other times not, but it was always there. And, Tara thought somewhat bitterly as she stared out the window, a slight chill tickling her exposed skin as she watched the rain fall, it's starting to feel like always will be.

Where to start? The girl looked to the empty invoice box on her desk, and the neatly organized file folder and ledger next to it. She looked to the perfectly arranged brushes and paints on the floor, and to the tagged and varnished commished works across the room. Well now I've done it, the blonde thought sullenly. I've actually procrastinated myself into having no choice but paint... something.

She sighed, and picked up her stereo remote from her desk. She hit the CD1 button, and the strains of The Rachel's poured out and around her. The piano, strings, and saxophone pushed and bounced off the walls, and after a few minutes spent listening, the blonde decided she needed something a little less eclectic. She hit CD2, only to be confronted by the frantic, choppy sounds of The Bad Plus's cover of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man." Not that either... She frowned, knowing full well that the CD3 tray held Willow's CD, and that she'd be sick of whatever she chose to replace it with, having decided over the weekend that she needed a break from Neko, The Smiths, and her other well-worn favorites. She tapped the remote against her leg, and moved to the desk.

Willow's CD.

She had avoided listening to it the day before, thinking that no listen, no angst, but now... now she realized that the only imagery and ideas she had had in the last few days had come from lyrics on that CD. She quickly paged through her notebook to where she had left off, scraps of lyrics and notes written beside the song's corresponding number from the CD. She took a deep breath, and then punched in the song number she had left off on, the now familiar tune filtered through the speakers and surrounding her.

It was the song that had reminded her of the foghorn in the Bay, the one with the soft feminine voice and simple, gorgeous guitar. The one with the drum line like the downbeat of a resting heartbeat-the one that made her daydream of snuggling on the couch with Willow, the redhead's chest rising and falling under the blonde's head, as the artist listened to her love's heartbeat. She smiled at the song, felt safe in it's strains, and couldn't help but recognize a growing nervousness as the song began to fade away into the unknown.

The new song began quietly, paired drum beats greeting her, and once again Tara was reminded of a heartbeat. On the sixth beat the drums were joined by an organ's earnest hum, and a tambourine's gentle tsh. After the fourteenth beat, a lilting man's voice joined in, and Tara was instantly entranced. It was velvet, emotional, and the man's melodic voice travelled the notes with a surprising scratchy softness. Warm and imperfect, a voice that you wouldn't expect to resonate, yet, there it was, carrying notes clearly and tenderly. For the first two lines she was lost in the intimacy of the song, the yearning tone, but then something stood out. A simple, sincere phrase which lit up her mind and pulled her soul completely into the song. 'Deep in the rain of sparks behind his brow, is a part replayed, from a perfect day...' Tara felt her face flush as the song continued to build. 'Loves, first, blush...'

Then the swell of the chorus was suddenly on her, and her flesh raised in goose bumps. 'Is this making sense? What am I trying to say...' It was like a wave spilling out of her heart, rushing into her extremities, and she held her breath, wide-eyed as the lyrics confronted her. 'Early evening June, this room and a radio play, this I need to save...' After a moment of stunned stillness, she immediately kneeled to the floor and began digging through a basket below her desk, the chorus fading out and the man starting the second verse. Finally fishing out the large Grado headphones with the long cord, she plugged into the stereo, placed the soft pads on her ears and pressed the back button, the twin tom drums of the song's opening greeting her again.

On this second listen she noticed a rapid pitter-patter in the background, almost like an insect's wings, or a heart beating wildly, passionately. She listened intently, increasing the volume in the hopes of catching every word as the lyrics began, and once again, when the chorus swelled she felt her skin raising across her arms, neck and thighs, tingling bumps that momentarily caught her breath. The song was literally stunning, the words, the phrasing; it was how she felt about the night Willow and her had spent together three years before, exactly. The images so closely matched what she had experienced that night after they had explored the park that she felt tears begin to sting the corners of her eyes. It was like magic.

She let herself listen to the song all the way through before she immediately went back and started again, reveling in the feeling, beginning, as she listened to the second repeat of the chorus the third time around, to frantically scribble down the lyrics in her notebook, looping back however many times she needed to to get the words down, to read them and savor them, swirl them around in her mind and let them sink into her self. 'Is this making sense? What am I trying to say...' She almost couldn't write fast enough, her thumb pressing the pen forcefully into her finger as she scribbled, and she laughed lightly at her chaotic penmanship, incorrect words scratched out, new words written above the scribbled marks. 'Early evening June, this room and a radio play...' She shook her head amazed, her heart thumping in her chest, the goofy smile pulling at her lips as her ears picked up the newly added piano. 'This I need to save, I choose my final thoughts, today, switching off with you...'

The lyrics finally and forever deciphered, she pressed the single song loop button on her remote and sank to the floor, closed her eyes, and let the song transport her fully to that night. 'Deep in a rain of sparks behind his brow...' She remembered acutely how they had sat in her room that night, the two of them alone, the quiet night pressing against them. 'All the clocks give in, and the traffic fades...' It had been so quiet. Just them. Just them speaking, and laughing... The memories were so vivid. The faint light from candles flickering against the wall, the smell of incense and an open window leaking in the clean scent of fog, the sheer curtains rising and falling against the window in time with their relaxed breaths as they shared their lives with one another, and the radio providing a soft soundtrack in the background. There wasn't one second of that evening that she had forgotten, one moment or glance that had escaped her attention, and everything, everything up to and including her slipping off to sleep that night had been the most perfect experience of her life. 'The instant fizz, connection made... And the curtains sigh, in time, with you...' How many nights had she put herself back in that time again, how many hours of sleep had she slipped into as her brain shut off to remembrances of that night, to her next to Willow in the dark, to the sound of the redhead's deep, slumbering breath in her ears?

'You, the only sense the world has ever made...'

The images from that night simply flooded her as the song replayed again and again, and the pressure from the headphones and the darkness from her closed eyes allowed her to put her entire being back in that time. Willow's hair had been shorter then, with little ringlets that fell around her face, and her mischievous eyes had twinkled in the low light as they talked late into the night. Tara had been entranced by the redhead's every move, the way her hands rotated at the wrist, the way her tongue darted forward to her teeth when excited. The little, throaty, dismissive sound the redhead made when she was trying to be modest, her words running into each other as they tumbled from her beautiful mouth when her interest was piqued. Her green eyes darting from the floor to meet Tara's eyes before flittering away, the necklace that sat delicately on her thin collarbones sparkling in the faint light. The redhead's hands seemed to always be in motion; even as they lay side by side, well, me on the bed, her on the floor, the redhead's hands moved, picking at imaginary fuzz on her pants, or following the hem of her shirtsleeve at her wrist. Willow would bounce excitedly when telling a story, or stare, rapt, when Tara was speaking. It felt like they were the only two people on the face of the earth for much of that night, ensconced in a little bubble, a cocoon of their making. 'A simple trinket locked away...' Everything from that day, that night, right up until she awoke early the next morning had been perfect...

After what was surely the tenth listen in a row, Tara emerged from her memories, her eyes opening, her mind returning to the here and now of her studio and the darkness pressing against the large window. She was suddenly very awake and very inspired. Her mind sparked and fired, and if she could create electricity from thought alone, her fingers would have crackled with it. She hit the stop button on the nearby remote, and removed the headphones from her head, her reality shifting to the sound of her home, the rain, and Willow above. She was excited, thoroughly reinvigorated, and absolutely unwilling to have this mood changed.

She turned to take in her studio and looked around only to be surprised. Her skin was buzzing, a creative, hopeful buzz, but the buzz-it wasn't there so that she could create a new work, to paint. It was there, pushing her, compelling her to see Willow.

Tara took a deep breath to try and compose herself, slow her heart, and after a long moment of just being she stood, unplugged the headphones, and put them on top of her desk. It had to be a coincidence. The phrasing, the warmth... The song's perfection was surely a coincidence. But. But. The girl shook her head, the lyrics wrapping around her brain like a vine. 'You, the only sense the world has ever made...' She sighed, shaken. All of this time she had assumed the CD's passionate lyrics were for Xander, but now... 'this I need to save...' But now...

Get a grip, Tara, the blonde thought unconvincingly, her heart still racing, her stomach now clenching. The song had been wonderful, inspiring and inviting but it's not as if it was specifically written about their night together three years before. After all, she hadn't taught Willow to whistle like a boy that night, and it hadn't been in June (though May was close enough, right?). Maybe the song *was* about Xander, or Oz even, or someone else, or... Or. She sighed. Just because it meant that perfect night to you, doesn't mean it means the same thing to Willow, the blonde thought. But, what if. What if...

The blonde bit her lower lip and again looked around her studio. She looked to the empty canvases sitting along the back wall, the perfectly organized paints and brushes, the not-yet-complete work in the center of the room sitting lonely on a single easel, all of it framed by the darkening shade of gray outside, and for first time in a long time, she let herself feel exactly what it was that she wanted to feel.

Willow looked up from the computer screen at the sound of a slight rap on her bedroom door, and smiled widely when she saw Tara's head peek around the door's open edge. "Hey."

"Hey," the blonde replied with a nervous smile, as she opened the door more fully in answer to Willow's hand waving her in. She quickly looked around the room as she stepped inside, noticing 'Confusing' hanging proudly on the wall to her left, and the small canvas awash in the color of Willow's green eyes sitting next to the redhead's computer monitors. Tara looked up and smiled mischievously when she recognized the song pouring out of the computer speakers on Willow's desk, and before she could censor herself, or remember why she had alighted the stairs in the first place, she said, "you're... bringing.... sexy back?"

"I-" Willow started to explain, her cheeks flushing red. "Yeah, I have no excuse for that..." She smiled sheepishly and immediately leaned over and turned the volume down. Of all the songs...

"Kelly Clarkson." The redhead arched an eyebrow at the seeming non-sequiter from the blonde, and she quickly twisted back to face Tara. "My guilty pleasure," the blonde explained with her own, light blush. "I blame Buffy."

Willow nodded with a wide smile. "Well, if we're blaming Buffy..." The two shared a soft chuckle and the redhead couldn't help but bounce slightly in her chair at the playful interaction.

"Are you busy?" Tara asked, a thin hand traveling to cover her stomach, butterflies fluttering wildly beneath her light touch. Just breathe...

"Nope," the redhead replied, leaning back in her chair, noticing that the nap had done Tara wonders. She was positively glowing, her face bright, her eyes alert. She is absolutely beautiful. "I was just killing time, looking at pictures of globular clusters on the Hubble telescope website. Partially because they're pretty, and partially because I like the word 'globular.'" The blonde smiled brightly. "Globular," the redhead continued. "It almost doesn't even sound like a real word." Tara chuckled, and the redhead beamed at having made the blonde light up, even if I just shined a giant spotlight on what a huge dork I am. "You seem like you're in a good mood. What's up?"

"Do you want to go to a movie?" Willow's eyebrows shot to her hairline, the invitation coming suddenly and completely unexpectedly. Tara recognized the surprised look, and stammered as she plowed ahead. "I have the w-worst case of cabin fever, and I just feel like if I don't get out of this house and far, far away from my studio I am going to go insane so, w-would you like to go get some coffee, or, or dinner? See a movie--"

"Or go to a concert," the redhead blurted out. Now it was Tara's turn to look surprised. Willow stood and moved toward her dresser, and by extension, the blonde. "I uh, I have two tickets, for tonight, to see this band that I really like, at The Fillmore." She picked the envelope up off of the dresser and held it gently in her hands, her nervous frame just feet from Tara. "I, I was going to ask if you wanted to go, with me, last night, and again this morning, but you seemed so stressed out, so, I didn't."

"Oh," the blonde replied, the surprise of Willow's words almost paralyzing her. She wants to take me to a concert...?

"It's actually why I went over to Khalil's yesterday," Willow explained in a timid tone. "He can't go because of some thing with his girlfriend, so he offered them to me, and I've never been to The Fillmore, and I know you really like going there, so, I guess I just thought-"

"O-Okay," the blonde stuttered out.

"O, okay?" The redhead asked, her eyebrows still arched in surprise. "Really? I mean, if you'd rather go to the movies instead that would be fine, too-"

"No, no," Tara said, stepping forward once and closing the distance between them, a mere foot now separating them. "I'd like to go to the concert, I just, it's a little unexpected."

"Sorry," the redhead replied sheepishly.

"No, nothing to be sorry about," the blonde replied, shaking her head. "It's. It's great. Will be great. Fun, even. Um," she looked up bashfully and smiled, again shaking her head. When words failed her, she simply stared at the woman in front of her for a brief moment, puzzled by everything Willow, before asking, "w-what were you going to do with the tickets if I couldn't go?"

"Oh, I don't know," Willow replied with a shrug of her shoulders, dropping her hands to her sides. "Go by myself, maybe."

"You'd go alone?" The blonde furrowed her brow, the thought of Willow out alone at a concert full of people sending a pang of sadness through her heart.

The redhead nodded, bringing her hands back up to play with the edge of the envelope. "I used to go to shows by myself at the Bronze during high school all the time. It doesn't really matter, sometimes, if you're alone or with someone once the lights go down and the music starts." As soon as the redhead heard what she was saying, she immediately added, "but, of course, I'd rather go with someone, with you, so, this works out." She smiled and Tara smiled in return, before letting her eyes drop. As she brought them back up, she noticed a set of papers laid out across Willow's bed; there, filled out in nice, neat print, were yesterday's housing applications. Willow looked to her bed and then back to the blonde. "So, um, the show starts at nine, doors open at eight... do you, want to go to dinner too, or...?"

"That would be nice," the blonde said, looking up with what she hoped was a warm smile, her confidence momentarily faltering. So I guess she's going ahead with the condo applications...

"Great," the redhead said with relieved sigh. When she caught Tara's gaze again, she said, "Khalil gave me his reservation to Chez Nous, but, I'm not sure if it's the best place to go. Most of the reviews I've read online said it was kind of noisy and cramped."

"It is," the blonde confirmed, remembering how annoyed Buffy had been by the waitress repeatedly bumping into their table the one time they went, and by the man-half of a couple who sat a mere six inches away from them and decided to break up with his sobbing girlfriend over their small plates of lavender lamb. "It's great food, but, yeah, very chaotic."

"Oh," the redhead replied, her chin dropping. What was the name of that other place, on Hayes...

Tara took in the redhead thinking just inches in front of her, and a snippet of the song filtered back to her mind. 'Deep in the rain of sparks behind his brow...' The blonde shivered, and she looked to catch Willow's gaze, her foolish confidence returning. Done, she offered a tentative suggestion. "There's um, there's a pizza place near The Fillmore that we could check out."

"But, you don't like pizza," Willow replied, her brow knit with suspicion.

Tara smiled brightly at the redhead's flawless memory, and the doubting look creasing her freckled brow. "They have really good salads, too."

"Oh, right." Willow blushed lightly and rolled her eyes, the trill of Tara's amused tone tickling her ears. "Assume much?"

Gorgeous... The blonde lightly cleared her throat. "Um, if you don't mind a few sprinkles, the 22 line drops off kitty corner to The Fillmore."

"Okay," the redhead gamely nodded. She had been going to offer to drive, but if Tara wanted to try MUNI...

"I always like taking the bus," the blonde explained. "It's fun, seeing how many other people end up at the show, and, if we wanted to drink..."

"Sounds like a safe and fun option," the redhead said with a happy nod. "So..."

"Leave in an hour?" Tara posited.

"Sure." The redhead fought every urge to bounce, to break into the spazziest of spazzy dances; instead, she just smiled, and nodded her head, worrying briefly that she looked like some kind of maniacal bobble-head doll.

"I need to freshen up a little," the blonde smiled, thumbing to the hallway, and the bathroom, behind her. She found it hard to stop smiling, and she practically melted at the sight of the big grin on the redhead's slim lips.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'd like to gussy up as well," Willow said. "Or at least put on a different shirt. First time to The Fillmore, don't want to look like a frumpy mumpy."

Tara laughed lightly. "I'm sure you won't." She took a step backwards. We're really doing this... "So, an hour?"

"An hour," Willow agreed.

"Great. And, nice song." The blonde pointed to the air around them, and winked.

Willow smiled, the sounds of Talk Talk softly surrounding them. "Thanks." You couldn't have been on when she came in...


"See you later, alligator," Willow watched Tara go, and her stomach did flips; partially at her lame goodbye, and partially in anticipation of the night ahead. Whoo-hoo! She quickly crossed to the door, closed it behind the blonde, and did a little happy dance. Dance done, she rushed to her closet, and began to claw through her clothes. Yay! She sighed happily, the reality of what just happened sinking in. Yay.

Continue to Neverland Chapter Forty-Six

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