Tara, she filled the room even when she wasn’t there, that was what Willow noticed most. The redhead sat on her bed in her single dorm room and looked around the four walls, and all she saw was Tara. Tears welled up in her green eyes and she wondered if all she would have was the memory of Tara, the lingering scent of her incense, and the warm tingling of Willow’s skin when she thought of her blonde lover’s touch.
"She has to come back," Willow whispered as she flopped onto the bed on her belly. She heard the rustling of papers and looked over the side of the bed and saw Miss Kitty. Her tears doubled when she saw the kitten she and Tara had picked out together. She scooped up the tiny, furry bundle and put her on the bed next to her. "She has just to, Miss Kitty."
A firm rap on the door startled Willow. She turned toward the sound and sniffled. The door unlocked and Buffy eased into the room.
"Willow? Are you okay? I came as soon as I got your message." Buffy saw her friend’s puffy eyes and rushed to the bed. "What is it?" She dropped to her knees next to the bed and grabbed Willow’s hand. "Willow? I’m getting scared here. Is this a Slayer problem? Should I call the Scoobies? A message from a crying Willow is not a good thing." In fact Buffy had only barely made out Willow’s name from the call. She had played the message and heard sobbing and sniffles, with an occasional whimpered ‘Buffy’ tossed in every few moments.
"No, I am so not okay." Willow shook her head and then buried her face into the bedspread. Miss Kitty mewed and rubbed her cheek on Willow’s shoulder.
"What is it?" Buffy moved to her feet and sat next to her best friend and softly rubbed her back. She had only seen Willow almost this despondent once before, and that had been when Oz had simply left town, and even then Willow hadn’t been this distraught. Then Buffy realized who Willow loved even more than she had loved Oz. "Willow, where’s Tara?"
Willow squirmed onto Buffy’s lap and began sobbing uncontrollably.
Buffy squeezed her eyes shut, trying to keep from shedding tears right along with her friend. She ran her fingers through Willow’s tangled red hair, smoothing it into place as best she could. She waited until the sobs slowed. "Willow, what happened?" She thought the two Wiccans were a perfect match, and she wondered what could have come between them. She also wondered how she was going to fix it, because she was going to fix it.
"S-she… h-her…" Willow seemed to have developed her lover’s stutter. "S-she…went to see her…" A new round of sobs racked her body and she clung to the Slayer.
"Who?" Buffy wanted desperately to understand. She tried to soothe the ache in Willow’s shaking body with a gentle touch, but she knew it was only temporary. Only Tara could ease this pain. "Who did she go see?"
"K-Kelly," Willow said in a tiny voice. She gripped Buffy around the waist and her back shook as she tried to stop the next wave of tears.
"And who is Kelly?" Buffy decided she would kill Kelly, or at least give her the scare of her lifetime.
"Kelly is… " Willow pulled back and locked eyes with Buffy. "Kelly is Tara’s…Oz."
Buffy’s eyes widened and she didn’t know what to say. She had always assumed Willow was Tara’s Oz, her first love. "Tell me everything," Buffy said gently.
"Hours and hours ago…." Willow sat up and wiped her eyes. For the moment the tears were interrupted. "We were in her dorm, and Kelly called." Willow’s lips quivered.
"And?" Buffy prompted.
"And… and Tara left. She just left. She got dressed and went…to her." Willow’s face scrunched up and the torrent of tears threatened to return.
"So, she went back to her?" Buffy was confused. "She broke up with you?"
"No!" Willow yelled. She jumped to her feet and glared at the Slayer. "No, definitely no. She wouldn’t do that." She put her hands on her hips and anger washed over her face replacing the sorrow that had been there moments earlier. "Tara’s not like that. How could you even ask that?"
Buffy stared, and her eyebrows slowly rose high onto her forehead.
"Okay, so the crying looks bad," Willow admitted. "But she went to SEE her!" Willow insisted as if that explained everything.
"Why did she go to see this Kelly person?" Buffy bit the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming. Willow could be extremely frustrating.
"Kelly’s girlfriend broke up with her and she asked Tara to come get her at the bus station," Willow said bitterly. Her expression was crestfallen. "And she…DID!"
"Willow?" Buffy said patiently. "Honey…" She guided her friend back to the bed and helped her sit. "Willow, if Oz called and needed help, what would you do?"
"Well, I’d help him," Willow said defensively. "But he’s Oz, and he and I are over and I don’t want to be with him because I love Tara, and Oz and I have closure… big closure… done… as in nothing going on with us ever again." She quirked her brow and frowned. "Closure."
"Maybe Tara and this Kelly have closure too," Buffy suggested. "What did she say when she left?"
"That she loved me," Willow admitted. "But, Buffy, she hasn’t seen Kelly since she left home… since Kelly broke up with her." She bit her lip to stop it from shaking. "No closure. None, nada…zero closure. If closure were a book, Tara and Kelly would be a pristine unopened notebook…nothing in it. No closure whatsoever."
"So you think Tara’s gonna’ just throw away everything you have for a girl she hasn’t heard from in ages?" Buffy let some of her anger lace through her voice. "Tara deserves more faith from you than that."
"Buffy, I trust her…but what if?" Willow inhaled slowly and covered her face with both hands. When she pulled them away her eyes were full of fear. "After I told Oz I couldn’t be with him… Tara told me about Kelly." She locked eyes with Buffy. "She told me she would have understood if I had chosen him." She grabbed Buffy’s hand and squeezed it desperately. "She said she understood because she still had feelings for her first love."
"Willow, she loves you." Buffy smiled and cupped Willow’s chin in her hand. "Haven’t you ever seen how she looks at you?" Buffy shook her head. "God, Will, her eyes are so full of love there’s just nothing else. You’re all she sees. There IS nothing else for her."
"I love her." Willow smiled shyly. "She is everything to me."
"No, really?" Buffy asked sarcastically.
Willow rolled her eyes.
"Did she say anything else before she left?" Buffy wiped the tears from Willow’s cheeks.
"Just that she had to go." Willow frowned. "Had to…like she couldn’t make any other choice."
"Well, let’s hold off on panicking until we get some actual bad news, okay?" Buffy offered. She smiled and pulled Willow into a hug. "Besides, I’m sure this Kelly chick can’t hold an extra flamey candle to you."
Willow laughed and sniffled as she hugged her friend.
"I think we should go get some ice cream," Buffy decreed. "Double chocolate chunk chip."
"With chocolate syrup?" Willow asked meekly.
"With chocolate syrup," Buffy agreed sagely.
Tara opened the door and motioned Kelly inside. She followed her ex-girlfriend into the room and was suddenly self-conscious. "Um, you can put your stuff anywhere," Tara said as she hastily grabbed Willow’s bra from the nightstand.
"Thanks." Kelly tossed her duffel bag near the bed and sat next to the pillows. She took a cigarette case out of her pocket and patted her jeans looking for matches.
Tara’s eyes widened.
"Oh. No smoking?" Kelly nodded and slipped the case back into her jacket. "They’re not addictive, you know."
"I don’t like the smell," Tara said honestly.
"I like the cloves." Kelly rocked back and forth on the bed. "Plus it helps when I’m nervous."
Tara bit her lip and looked away.
"I like the new color." Kelly looked over at Tara and smiled.
Tara turned, confused, then smiled when Kelly pointed to her hair. "Thanks. Willow colored it for me."
Kelly nodded. "How long have you been dating?"
"We’re past dating," Tara clarified. "We’ve been together for a little over a year."
"Sounds serious." Kelly stood and walked slowly toward Tara.
"It’s the most serious thing I’ve ever known," Tara said with a nod.
"Are you happy?" Kelly asked with a touch of sorrow.
"I didn’t know I could be this happy." Tara paused, not wanting to hurt Kelly, but she couldn’t deny the truth. "Willow is my… soulmate."
"You look great." Kelly ran her fingers through Tara’s darkened hair. "I like the new color… and no stutter. Leaving home was good for you."
"I’m happy," Tara repeated. She backed away from Kelly and crossed both of her arms over her chest. "Are you ready to talk about Claire?"
"Not much to say." She looked down at the floor, unable to meet Tara’s eyes. "She was embezzling money from me and I caught her and then she…" She shook her head and looked up. A single tear slid down her cheek.
"Did she hurt you?" Tara’s demeanor shifted when she thought that someone might have injured Kelly. She moved forward and took her ex-girlfriend by the shoulders. "Are you okay?" Concern laced her voice. Despite what Kelly had done in the past, Tara still cared for her.
"No, my knight in shining armor." Kelly rested her hand over one of Tara’s. "She didn’t touch me." She laughed bitterly. "No, Claire wasn’t about to damage the merchandise."
"It’s weird," Tara said quietly. "I don’t read many magazines, but sometimes I see you and it’s, well, it’s weird." She backed away, uncomfortable with the closeness.
"It’s weird for me too," Kelly admitted. "I’m still the same girl who rode horses bareback down to the creek with you. I never thought I’d end up here."
"In Sunnydale?" Tara asked.
"In magazines." Kelly rolled her eyes. "In my life, with all the fake friends money can buy."
"Oh," Tara said with a shrug. "That ‘here.’"
"Or this ‘here.’" Kelly swept her arm around the room. "With you coming to my rescue after all this time, after everything I’ve done." She moved closer and a gentle smile covered her features as she remembered her time with Tara. "I always said I’d be the one to rescue you, and yet when things go bad, you’re still the one coming to get me."
"I saved myself." Tara backed away again. "You can do the same."
"Are you afraid of me?" Kelly raised one eyebrow playfully. "You keep backing away."
"T-that’s what p-polite people do," Tara stuttered. "I have a girlfriend, a lover."
"So why are you afraid of me?" Kelly stepped closer. "I’m still the same Kelly. I won’t hurt you, Tara."
"You already did," Tara said more harshly than she intended. "I have a new life now, a happy life. I’m not gonna’ m-mess it up." She moved away from Kelly and went to the door. "You can sleep here. No one knows you’re here. I’ll be back in the morning."
"You’re leaving?" Kelly asked incredulously.
"Well, I’m not saying," Tara said just as shocked. She grabbed a pencil and scribbled onto the pad near the phone. "If you need anything, call me."
"That’s her number?" Kelly accused. She picked up the scrap of paper and studied it.
Tara nodded and went to the door.
"I’ll see you tomorrow?" Kelly asked quietly.
"Yeah," Tara said as she opened the door. "Goodnight." She ducked out the door.
"I never stopped loving you," Kelly whispered to the closed door. She turned and walked around the small room and saw the Wiccan supplies. "You kept up with your craft?" She touched a small crystal and smiled. "Is she a witch?" Kelly wondered out loud. "It won’t matter." She sat on Tara’s bed and hugged the pillow to her chest. "We’re meant for each other."
"Feeling better?" Buffy asked as she sat next to Willow on the bed.
"Well, I feel fuller." Willow smirked. "And I may have to go the ER for a chocolate overdose, but yeah, I’m feeling better." She sighed and slowly leaned back onto the bed. "You poisoned me, Buffy." She rolled toward her best friend. "Thanks," she added with a huge, silly grin.
"That’s in my job description." Buffy crawled onto the bed on her belly and rested her face on her hands.
"Slayers can prescribe chocolate?"
"No, best friends handle all chocolate. Slayers just get to enjoy it as a side deal." Buffy groaned. "If it’s any consolation, I think I’ll be going to the ER with you."
"Buffy, do you think I’m pretty?" Willow asked, suddenly serious.
"Well, yeah." Buffy furrowed her brow.
"Beautiful?" Willow probed.
"Yes." Buffy sighed. "Willow, Tara loves you. Quit worrying."
"Her ex-girlfriend is beautiful, Buffy. Gorgeous, more than gorgeous." Willow frowned.
"It’s not about looks," Buffy said reassuringly. "Besides, it’s not she’s a movie star."
"She’s Kelly Larson," Willow said glumly. She pressed her forehead onto the bed.
"Well, she might be pretty but I’m sure she’s no Kelly Larson." Buffy laughed. "Come on, that woman’s incredible. That black hair, those blue eyes, and that body? She’s unreal. Heck, when I look at her, I kinda’ understand the whole you and Tara thing." She blushed. "Oh, that came out wrong… I just mean that Kelly Larson is hot. I mean pretty, in a platonic, just noticing hypothetically how she might look to someone who was looking…which I was SO not."
"You’re not helping." Willow slowly lifted her head. "Tara’s ex-girlfriend is Kelly Larson, the model."
"The Kelly Larson?" Buffy sat up. "You knew this, and you didn’t tell me?"
"It’s not something I like to think about," Willow whispered.
"Your girlfriend dated a genuine supermodel and you didn’t tell me?" Buffy stared at Willow in shock.
"Yes," Willow said. "And she’s not a supermodel. She’s just a regular model, okay, maybe a spokesmodel. I mean, yeah, she does Maybeline, but she’s not a supermodel." Willow jumped from the bed and glared at her friend. "And quit acting like this is a good thing."
"Okay, I can see where this would be a bad thing," Buffy admitted. "Not that Tara would be into that sort of looks, I was just interested in a ‘she’s a famous person’ kind of way."
"A famous, rich, beautiful person who is Tara’s first love," Willow whined plaintively. "And now she’s back and Tara just went running off to be with her."
"That doesn’t matter," Buffy said certainly. "Tara loves you."
"She loved Kelly too," Willow pointed out. She sat and rested her face in both hands and felt tears threatening to start again. "God, if this is what I put Tara through when Oz came back…" Willow squeezed her eyes shut. "How did she get through it?"
"She trusted you." Buffy sat next to Willow and draped her arm over the redhead’s shoulder. "Besides, she knew you’d pick her."
"No, she didn’t," Willow admitted. She looked into Buffy’s eyes. "She told me that she understood that I had to be with the one I loved. She thought I’d already picked Oz." She shook her head. "She’s so noble, Buffy. She didn’t pressure me; all she did was let me decide. It was breaking her heart but she was gonna’ let me go because she thought it would make me happy."
"She’s special," Buffy agreed.
"I don’t know if I can be that strong," Willow whispered. "I just wanna’ run and grab her and tell her how much I love her and beg her to stay with me." She rested her cheek on Buffy’s shoulder. "It’s taking all my energy to stop from wandering the streets to look for her."
"She’ll be back," Buffy promised.
"How can you know that?"
"Remember? I’ve seen they way she looks at you." Buffy squeezed Willow’s side. "You big dummy. Don’t you ever look at her eyes?"
"Well, yeah." Willow blushed. "I know she’s crazy about me, she loves me, but this is her first love."
"Why didn’t you pick Oz?" Buffy challenged.
"There wasn’t any question," Willow said with a wistful sigh. "She’s Tara. I’ve never felt anything like I do for her." She smiled at Buffy. "It’s magic."
"Yes, it is." Buffy nodded. "And that magic goes both ways." She cleared her throat. "Okay, I am gonna’ run down and grab a quick shower. You gonna’ be okay?"
"Yeah," Willow said with a smile. "I’m just being a big dummy worrying about things I shouldn’t."
"Glad we got that cleared up." Buffy smiled and went to Willow’s closet and grabbed the overnight bag she kept there. "No panicking while I’m gone," she warned as she left.
"Promise." Willow watched Buffy leave and then went over to her dresser and looked at a picture of Tara. "It’d be nice if you hurried up," she told her lover’s photo.
The door opened and Tara walked into the room.
"Wow," Willow said under her breath. "It’d be nice if you had a million dollars in your hand too."
"Hi," Tara said with an exhausted sigh. She held out her hands and went to Willow. "I missed you," she added as she fell into the redhead’s arms.
"Missed you too," Willow said in a husky whisper. ‘Thank you, goddess,’ she thought as she felt the comforting warmth of Tara’s arms. "I wasn’t sure you were coming back," Willow whispered. She clung to Tara, unable, unwilling to let go.
"Not coming back?" Tara sighed and squeezed Willow closer. "I’ll always come back, my Willow."
"I should know that." Willow eased back. "I do know that. It’s just so hard to wait."
"I know," Tara said with a patient smile. "Now, I don’t have a extra-flamey candle for you to blow out, but I will make it up to you."
"Um…" She started to point out that Buffy would be back any minute, but her protest was silenced when Tara leaned in and took possession of Willow’s mouth.
Tara cradled Willow to her, luxuriating in the perfect fit of their bodies. This was her home, this woman, this soul. She moaned and gently guided her lover toward the bed, her hands busily sneaking under Willow’s blouse to feel her flawless skin.
In the back of Willow’s mind she knew that she should mention that the Slayer was going to show up, but it didn’t seem to matter when Tara’s hands covered the redheaded Wiccan’s breasts.
"Where did we leave off?" Tara giggled as she tossed Willow onto the bed and then straddled her in one quick motion. She didn’t wait for an answer, just ducked her head down to kiss Willow deeply. Her hands continued the rhythmic caresses as her lips detoured along Willow’s cheek to her jaw and then down to nip her throat.
"Buffy…" Willow whimpered as she tried to take her lover’s eager hands in her own.
"What did you call me?" Tara sat up abruptly, her passion smothering as the word hit her ears like a truckload of sand poured over a campfire
"Buffy’s here," Willow clarified as she fought to control her breathing. She looked up into Tara’s eyes and saw pain and betrayal brimming and ready to fall with the tears quickly forming. "Tara?" She squirmed and managed to sit up by moving her lover to one side. "Oh, god, no." Willow yanked Tara into her arms and ran her hand down the blonde’s back. "Honey, I was trying to say ‘Buffy is here.’ I was not calling out Buffy’s name."
Tara relaxed into the embrace and took a cleansing breath. Seeing Kelly had opened old wounds and the deepest was the ache left behind when Kelly had slept with someone else. Kelly had called out that other woman’s name in a similar moment. Tara shivered and clung to Willow.
"Tara?" Willow eased back and cupped her beloved’s chin in her hand. "You know what I meant, right?"
Tara nodded mutely.
"Seeing her upset you, didn’t it?" Willow remembered Tara’s tears when she had explained Kelly’s betrayal.
"J-just brought up some stuff." Tara held Willow’s hand in place on her chin and smiled. "I wanted to come back here and finish what we started earlier." Her eyes shifted and she glanced down. "I’m sorry I let her interfere tonight."
"Hey." Willow gently lifted Tara’s chin so they could make eye contact. "I understand. You care about people; that’s why I love you so much." She smirked, half her lip curling into a crooked smile that always made Tara feel better. "I feel awful that I invited Buffy to stay." She moved her hand to the back of Tara’s neck and pulled her lips closer. "I’d much rather be alone with you."
"Me too," Tara admitted as her eyes slid shut and her lips met Willow’s. It started as a tender, reassuring kiss, but as usually happened with them, it quickly ignited deeper passions.
They rolled back onto the bed in a tangle of limbs and lost all thought of the world as tongues met with loving intent and lips pressed together as if hungry, starving for the contact. When they had first stared dating, Tara hadn’t been comfortable just diving into the bone melting kisses. She preferred a slow progression from gentle, almost timid kisses that slowly developed into more inflamed explorations. Now, after months together, the passion could spark in an instant, their love like dry tender waiting for one spark. One kiss was spark enough for the two to lose themselves in each other, passion consuming them instantly. Hands moved slowly over skin with knowing intent and clothing barriers seemed to add to the excitement. They struggled to push aside garments, quickly replacing them with kisses and touches.
"Whoa!" Buffy spun around as soon as she came in the room. She studied the poster tacked to the door. "Hello? Slayer in the building?"
"Buffy." Tara’s eyes shot open and she struggled to pull her blouse back into place.
"Oh, uh…Tara’s back." Willow blushed bright red and tried to help her lover. Tara’s blouse was tangled with her bra with both garments hiked up almost to her throat. "I didn’t expect your shower to be over quite so quick," Willow added as she stared at the bra like it was some satin and lace puzzle.
"I figured that out." Buffy started to turn but she saw a flash of skin and spun back to the poster. "Nice poster," she commented with a smirk. She pretended to study the framed artwork on the wall next to her.
"Definitely didn’t expect you so soon," Willow repeated as she furrowed her brow. The bra was practically braided with the fabric of the shirt. She met Tara’s eyes and they both shrugged, neither knowing quite how it had gotten so tangled.
"Try unhooking the bra in back," Buffy suggested without turning.
Tara’s eyes bulged, but she reached back and unhooked the twisted garment. As soon as she did, the front untangled and Willow tugged it back into place.
"T-thanks," Tara said shyly. She rubbed her forehead wondering if blushing could actually cause her temperature to rise. She smiled wickedly as she realized that Willow was probably responsible for any overheating.
Buffy turned, quickly making sure both her friends were dressed, and then went to the bed and flopped onto it. "Okay…spill." She pinned Tara in her gaze. "You dated a famous model and I am just now hearing about it…why?"
Tara groaned and flopped back onto the bed. She pulled a pillow over her head and wondered how long she could hide under the fluffy shield before the curious Slayer crawled in after her. Buffy was a notorious celebrity gossip hound and she would not let Tara off the hook without a serious fight.
Willow glared at the Slayer. The redheaded witch did not want to sit around discussing Tara’s beautiful first love.
Buffy shrugged when she saw Willow’s expression. Her excitement sometimes got the best of her.
"What do you want to know?" Tara asked in a muffled whisper from under the pillow.
Buffy looked over at Willow. When the redhead rolled her eyes and nodded Buffy wiggled excitedly. "How did you meet her?"
"We grew up together," Tara said as she crawled out from under the pillow and settled it under her chin. "She was my neighbor, and we dated in high school."
"Was she popular?" Buffy asked delicately. She didn’t want to make Willow uncomfortable, but she was dying to know the details.
"No." Tara giggled. "She was gangly, and shy and wore tons of Gothic makeup." She sat up and faced the Slayer. "And she was an outcast, like me. Her mother was a witch too." Her eyes filled with sorrow.
Willow squirmed as she listened to her lover but Buffy was too intrigued to notice.
"She was your first… umm, girlfriend?" Buffy asked delicately.
Tara nodded and blushed.
"Wow." Buffy’s eyes were wide like a startled cat. "When did she turn into Kelly Larson?" Buffy rolled her eyes when she realized how silly her question was. "When did she become a model?"
"Senior year," Tara whispered. "Her senior year. I was a junior." Tara stood and walked over to the dresser and fidgeted with Willow’s hairbrush. She cleared her throat. "She had her Goth makeup off one afternoon, and a woman passing through town noticed her," Tara said bitterly. The memory still stung. "She offered to be Kelly’s agent." She didn’t add that the older woman also became Kelly’s lover.
"Just like the movies," Buffy noted.
Tara nodded and pushed the hairbrush away. She closed her eyes and remembered the pain of that time so long ago. She swallowed hard and pushed down the feeling of betrayal. "Anyway, she started taking trips to LA for photo shoots." Tara’s voice became hollow and she turned and looked at Buffy with a forced smile. "It ended. No biggie."
Willow stood and went to her lover. She knew better. "Hey, you okay?"
Tara nodded and gave her lover a half grin. Willow pulled her into a hug and the redhead looked over Tara’s shoulder at Buffy.
"Oh, geeze," Buffy said as she stood. "I can’t believe I’m being so dense. You don’t have to talk about this." She winced as she locked eyes with Willow. "I’m sorry."
"Don’t be." Tara pulled out of Willow’s embrace and faced Buffy. "It’s in the past and I got the best part of the deal." She picked up Willow’s hand and kissed her lover’s delicate fingers. "I found my Willow."
"Yeah, you did," Buffy agreed.
"You sure did," Willow chimed in. "And you’re stuck with me."
"Good," Tara said happily. She pulled Willow to her and gave her lithe lover a tender kiss.
"Ahem." Buffy cleared her throat. "Isn’t this where I came in? No witchy kisses in front of the Slayer."
Willow ignored her friend’s protest and deepened the kiss. After fully enjoying the sensation of Tara’s lips, she eased back. She kept her hands draped over Tara’s shoulders because both women were slightly lightheaded.
Buffy smiled and went over to the bed and tickled Miss Kitty’s chin. ‘Willow, you have nothing to worry about,’ the Slayer thought. ‘Tara’s nuts about you.’
"I won’t ever hurt you like that," Willow whispered. Her lips were pressed against Tara’s ear, her hot breath tickling even as the words soothed.
Tara squeezed Willow and nodded. She knew it was true.
"So, do I need to get outa’ here?" Buffy asked. She looked around the room, wondering where the big supermodel…make that model… was. "Are you gonna’ have company?"
"No." Willow rolled her eyes and looked over at Buffy. "She’s not coming here." Willow released a tiny sound that Tara called the ‘Willow-snort.’ It meant the young witch found the comment completely ridiculous.
Tara stiffened in her lover’s arms.
"She’s not coming here is she?" Willow asked as she stepped back.
"Darling, I would never bring her here…" Tara’s furrowed her brow. "But she didn’t have anywhere to go, so I kinda’ let her stay in my dorm…honey." The blonde gave Willow a pleading look. "Please don’t be angry. She had no where to go and Claire is looking for her by now and…and… well, she didn’t have anywhere to go and if it was Oz I’d want you to let him stay in your room…Without you of course… and you could stay with—"
"Tara." Willow put her finger over the blonde witch’s lips to silence her. "It’s okay." She smiled at her babbling lover.
Tara’s eyes were wide like a lost child’s.
"Really," Willow assured her.
"My god Willow, babbling is contagious." Buffy snickered as she sat on the redhead’s chair near the desk. "Must be from… more intimate contact since I never caught it."
"And you never will," Willow said with a leer. She looked back into Tara’s eyes. "So, is she okay?" She leaned over and kissed Tara’s nose.
"She’s gonna’ be." Tara nodded. She tilted her head to one side and her eyes shined with tears. "I love you. You’re so wonderful."
"I am rather spectacular, aren’t I?" Willow straightened her back and smirked.
"Oh geeze, that’s worse than the smoochies." Buffy rolled her eyes.
Tara and Willow locked eyes, eyes that sparkled with mischief. They glanced over at the a Slayer and then leaned into each other for a deep, tongue wrestling, passionate kiss, complete with enthusiastic sounds effects.
"Oh, knock it off!" Buffy sprinted for the bed and grabbed some pillow weapons and began smacking her frisky Wiccan friends.
"It was your idea," Tara pointed out as she dodged a pillow.
"Yeah, like I said you two should play tonsil hockey, right!" Buffy swatted Tara on the behind.
Tara squealed and dove behind Willow for rescue. "It was all Willow," Tara volunteered.
"Was not," Willow insisted as she deflected a pillow. "Besides, that was not tonsil hockey. I hate hockey. It was more like Greco Roman tongue wrestling." She giggled as she dodged Buffy’s assault. "It’s practically an Olympic sport."
Tara grabbed a pillow and bravely launched an attack against the Slayer. She was promptly chased back to the bed. Willow pounced on Buffy and the three fell into a heap on the bed.
"Love ya’ both, but this ain’t happening." Buffy flipped Willow and pinned her to the bed with one leg and then dragged Tara over next to the redhead and pinned her with the other. "Slayer, remember?" She looked down, not even breaking a sweat.
Tara and Willow were both breathing heavily from the exertion and squirming to get loose.
"No fair, you big Slayer meanie," Willow whined.
Tara took Willow’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. The redhead turned and locked eyes with her lover. The two witches smiled and Buffy lifted into the air.
"Hey! No fair, you big witch meanies!" Buffy hovered in the air, giving both of her friends an indignant glare.
Tara smirked as she pulled Willow up beside her and the two began smacking Buffy with pillows.
"You are both so dead when I get down from here!" Buffy covered her face as the twin Wiccan assault became a frenzy of pillow smacks.
"Give up?" Willow asked as she swatted Buffy’s behind.
"Okay, I surrender!" The Slayer’s hair was jutting out in every direction. "Stupid witches," she muttered as they lowered her to the ground.
"Magic, remember?" Willow said with a cheeky grin.
Tara nodded as she stepped behind Willow and peeked over the redhead’s shoulder. "You use Slayer skills, we get to use magic."
"I still think the lifting of the Slayer is just wrong. I am not a Macy’s parade balloon." Buffy crossed her arms over her chest and sulked. "So, I suppose I have to sleep on the floor like Dawn always does?" Buffy looked over at the wall where a sleeping bag rested. She let her eyes slowly move back to the large, comfortable sleigh bed Willow and Tara shared.
Willow turned and looked into Tara’s eyes with a pleading pout.
"Okay, fine, but I get the middle." Tara looked over at Buffy. "Last time Willow was in the middle you used your Slayer strength and stole all the blankets and my bu— my back got cold."
"Got it," Buffy said with a smile. "No cold Tara back." She leaped onto the bed and bounced. "I need a cushy bed like this," she added in a whine.
"Your back got cold?" Willow spun Tara in her arms and spooned the taller blonde from behind. "I woulda’ warmed you up," she whispered in her lover’s ear. "My poor baby." She wrapped one arm around Tara’s belly and used the other to rub her lover’s back. She edged her hand lower and squeezed Tara’s behind. "And your cold little butt," she added with a giggle.
Tara let out a satisfied purr.
"Hello? Slayer? Still in the room." Buffy cleared her throat. "No witchy lovin’ with me in the room."
"Buffy?" Willow asked with a devious smirk.
The Slayer looked over at Willow and raised one eyebrow.
"Get… over…it." Willow squeezed Tara and left a playful kiss on her lover’s neck.
Tara leaned back into Willow. The blonde Wiccan had a look of decadent enjoyment filling her lidded eyes.
"Okay," Buffy said grumpily. "But she doesn’t have to look like…like… that." She pointed at Tara’s expression of near climactic bliss.
"Yes… I… do," Tara said with a sensual moan.
"Hey!" Buffy closed her eyes and covered both ears.
"Okay, let’s give her a break," Willow said with a giggle. She backed away from Tara and nodded toward the bed. "Come on." She tugged Tara with her to the dresser. "Buffy, you need some jammies?"
"I have some still here, I think." Buffy bounded over to the closet and pulled out her overnight bag. "Tada!" She held up a pair of maroon pajamas.
"Cool," Willow said with a smirk. She tossed back the blankets and readied the bed for her two favorite women. They settled in for the night and after a few minutes of talk they each drifted off to sleep. Buffy was the last one awake. She wasn’t used to sharing a bed with others since Riley had left, and Willow had apparently become a noisy sleeper. The redhead sprawled over Tara as if the blonde was her personal teddy bear-body pillow and Willow kept making little contented murmurs as she ran her hand over her lover’s belly.
Tara rolled her head to the side and whimpered. She was dreaming but it was not a pleasant image. She furrowed her brow as the random thoughts ran through her mind.
She was running through a large field of fresh green grass. It was the color of Willow’s eyes, and that brought a smile to Tara’s lips in the dream and on her sleeping form. She stopped in the middle of the field and looked for her lover but couldn’t see her. Tara began to run, but the field continued on for miles.
The blonde witch turned and saw Kelly walking toward her with her arms held out. Tara shook her head, knowing something was horribly wrong.
"Where’s Willow?" Tara demanded.
"Who?" Kelly walked over to Tara and took her hand. "It’s just me, Tari." She smiled and tried to pull Tara into her arms.
"No!" Tara backed up, but the grass grew over her feet pinning her in place. "Willow?" She spun her head but the grass was growing higher. "Willow!"
"Tari, we belong together," Kelly said as she wrapped her hands behind Tara’s neck.
"No!" Tara screamed in the dream.
"No!" Tara sat up in the bed and took in a breath of air. It was dark, and she reached out one hand to feel Willow’s warm skin. The contact instantly soothed Tara’s soul but she was still shaken. She tried to slow her breathing and realized that she was sweating. She kissed Willow’s cheek and then climbed over the redhead and got out of the bed and went to the closet to get the Wiccan supplies she and Willow kept there.
Buffy opened her eyes when she heard Tara cry out. It hadn’t been more than a whisper, but it was enough to wake the Slayer. She was concerned, Tara sounded upset and Buffy could hear the blonde witch’s ragged breathing as she moved across the room. Buffy sat up and studied Tara as she collected the items from the closet. Salt, a white candle, and a crystal, items Buffy recognized as the essential elements for a protection spell or a simple warding spell.
Tara poured the salt on the floor in front of the door and the window and then lit the candle and put it on top of a small round mirror on the dresser. She put the crystal in the glow from the flame and then whispered a few words. As she was climbing back into the bed she noticed that Buffy was sitting up.
"I’m sorry, did I wake you?" Tara asked. She squeezed back into the bed between Buffy and Willow, smiling when Willow let out a frustrated grumble and then pulled Tara into a strong hold.
"Slayer hearing," Buffy whispered. "You okay?" She nodded toward the white candle flickering on the dresser. "Protection spell? Or warding off bad dreams?"
Tara’s eyes widened in the near darkness, but Buffy’ had acute night vision so she easily made out the blonde witch’s startled expression.
"Hey, I know stuff," Buffy whispered, clearly offended. "I don’t always let Giles know that I know it, but I know."
Tara smiled and shook her head. "It’s a dream ward," Tara said as she snuggled into Willow.
"Everything okay?" Buffy reached over in the dim light and pushed a strand of hair out of Tara’s eyes and settled into the bed.
Tara closed her eyes and sighed. She swallowed hard, and her body stiffened.
Even in sleep Willow could feel her lover’s turmoil. The redhead scooted closer and she draped her body around Tara like a protective shield. "Love you," Willow mumbled.
Tara closed her eyes and inhaled deeply and absorbed the love from her soulmate. She opened her eyes and looked over at Buffy. "I’m fine now," she whispered.
"Bad dreams?" Buffy prodded.
"Kelly," Tara whispered.
Buffy sat up and stared down at Tara. The hairs on the back of the Slayer’s neck stood on end. "Is she doing something to you?" The anger and protective threat in her voice was unmistakable.
"Not intentionally," Tara said quickly. She sighed and ran her hand through Willow’s hair. Her lover could sleep through practically anything.
Buffy shifted her weight and studied Tara. She could tell the blonde witch wasn’t entirely comfortable talking about her exgirlfriend.
"We grew up together," Tara whispered. She didn’t want to wake Willow. She wanted Willow to rest, and she had already told her lover everything she was telling Buffy. "Our mothers were both solitary witches, but sometimes they’d cast together, and sometimes, Kelly and I would cast with them, as far back as I can remember." She sighed. "Doing magic creates bonds," Tara explained.
"I’ve noticed," Buffy said with a smirk. She nodded toward Willow. The sleeping witch was running her hands over Tara, unconsciously exploring areas she obviously knew well.
"Oh, god." Buffy’s eyes widened when she realized that Tara had probably cast spells with Kelly when they dated. She locked eyes with Tara.
"Yes," Tara acknowledged. "Kelly and I did lots of spells when we were… a… couple."
"So these dreams?" Buffy asked.
"I thought the bond was broken." Tara let out a frustrated sigh and kissed Willow’s temple. "But she was in my dream."
"Hence the warding spell?" Buffy asked.
Tara nodded and then swallowed.
"Maybe you need to do a binding spell," Buffy suggested.
"You have been studying." Tara allowed a tiny smile.
"Just don’t tell Giles." The Slayer looked over at the white candle and then back to Tara. "I’m sure Willow would help you with a binding spell, to break the connection."
Tara nodded. She didn’t like the idea of doing a binding spell on someone she used to love, someone she still cared for. The binding spell would break all magical connections, and that usually meant all other contact ended as well. It was a drastic step, but Tara didn’t feel right having her exlover invade her dreams.
"Do you think she did it on purpose?" Buffy asked with a yawn.
"Oh, goddess, no," Tara said quickly. "I’ll ask her to do a severing spell before I worry about a binding. It’s probably just because we grew up casting together and now Kelly’s upset and we were bound to have some bleedover." Tara kissed Willow’s cheek. "I should have thought about that before I went to bed. Kelly and I can probably just do a simple spell to break the connection."
"Well, as long as it’s not some witchy badness I need to get all Slayerish about." Buffy yawned and fluffed her pillow.
"Kelly would never do anything like that," Tara assured the Slayer. She closed her eyes and snuggled into Willow’s embrace. She drifted off to sleep, and dreamt only of Willow, as it should be.
Kelly sat cross-legged in the middle of Tara’s dorm room. She had a circle of herbs around her and four candles burning, one at each cardinal compass point. The black haired witch opened her eyes and frowned. Her connection with Tara had been severed, and more than that, she had been blocked. She stood and stepped out of the circle and walked over to the dresser and flipped on the light. She saw a picture of Tara with a slender, pretty redhead. Obviously this was Willow. Kelly traced the photo and then looked back at the circle on the floor.
‘I need a stronger spell,’ Kelly thought as she went over and blew out the candles. ‘This Willow has a stronger bond with Tara than I thought.’ She went to her duffel bag and took out an athame. She looked at the worn handle on the sacred dagger made from one of the most power stones in Wicca, jet. The jet athame had belonged to Kelly’s great-grandmother and it had a silver lotus on each side of the handle. She paused as she flipped through her book of Shadows, which had also belonged to her great-grandmother. She knew the spell she needed, and she hesitated. It was the one spell her mother had argued with Tara’s mother about. It was the spell that ended their friendship. Dark magic was something Kelly had always avoided, yet had always been drawn to, but now she had no choice. She had allowed Tara to walk away and she had to set things right. She would get Tara back. She opened the book of shadows to the page marked, ‘unleashing the darkness,’ and began reading.
Buffy woke up when the sun peeked through the window and hit her in the face. She rolled over and decided that she was glad she had been awakened at such an ungodly hour. She looked over and saw Tara and smiled. She was cradling Willow in her arms with her finger splayed over the redhead’s shoulders. She gently stroked Willow even while asleep. Willow had never seemed happier. The bookish Wiccan had her face nestled under Tara’s chin and her hand was griping Tara’s flannel pajama top as if she never wanted to let go. Buffy couldn’t blame her; if the Slayer had found somewhere that wonderful, she wouldn’t want to leave either.
Tara’s brow furrowed and she inhaled deeply. The blonde frowned and rolled away from Willow and groaned in her sleep. Willow responded instantly, rolling after her lover and wrapping her arm over Tara’s waist. Unfortunately, when Willow touched Tara’s waist, the blonde witch flinched and groaned in protest.
"Tara?" Willow’s eyes opened and she sat up. She reached down and felt her lover’s forehead, and concern wrinkled the redheaded witch’s brow.
"Will?" Buffy edged closer.
"She’s feverish," Willow whispered as she scooted up so she could pull Tara’s face into her lap. "Baby? Are you okay?" She ran her fingers over Tara’s temples.
Tara settled onto her back with her head resting in Willow’s lap but the blonde was not comfortable. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked up at Willow and then rolled as she tried to sit up.
"Easy," Willow said as she helped Tara regain her balance.
"Move," Tara said harshly. She stumbled off of the bed and then out the door of the room. The shy Wiccan didn’t even stop to put a robe on over her flannel shorts.
"Oh, boy." Willow grabbed two robes and hurried after her lover.
"And I guess I’ll wait here," Buffy said to the empty room.
Tara sprinted to the closest bathroom and barely made it to an empty stall before she was sick. Willow came into the bathroom and saw the startled looks of several of the other dorm residents. The toilet flushed.
"Someone partied too much last night," one of the freshman said with a snort. "Try some aspirin and orange juice." She giggled and left the bathroom.
Willow pushed open Tara’s stall and squeezed in behind her lover. Tara had her hands on the toilet seat, and her face was resting on her hands. She was breathing heavily and let out a whimper when Willow touched her back.
"You okay?" Willow asked gently.
Tara shook her head without lifting it from her hands. She groaned as another round of sickness washed over her. Willow reacted quickly. She reached down and lifted Tara’s hair out of her face with one hand and rested the other palm on Tara’s lower back. The two robes were hanging over one arm. When Tara stopped heaving the redhead draped both robes over Tara when she started shivering.
"You don’t have to stay," Tara whispered. She felt lightheaded, but she was also a little self-conscious about Willow seeing her ill.
"I love you." Willow kissed the back of Tara’s head. "And I’m a little concerned. You just got all sick and I don’t like my honey being sick." She ran her hand down her lover’s back in small circles. "Why are you sick?"
Tara laughed even as her head throbbed.
"Oh, of course you don’t know why you’re sick. I mean, you’re not a doctor, so how would you know?" Willow frowned. "We need a doctor. Right now. We should go to the hospital."
"I’m fine," Tara insisted. "Go back to the room."
"You ready?" Willow gave her lover’s arm a gentle squeeze.
"No," Tara said quickly. "I’ll just stay here a while." She wasn’t about to move. Even though she wasn’t actually throwing up at the moment, she had been heaving, with her stomach trying to toss its contents. She wasn’t about to leave until she was certain.
"Then we’ll hang out." Willow leaned against the inside of the stall. Her hand still held Tara’s hair.
"I’m not getting rid of you?" Tara looked up at her lover. The blonde’s eyes were red and swollen and tearing up.
Willow pursed her lips and shook her head.
Tara tried to stand, not wanting to keep her lover in the stall for half the morning. Her legs buckled and she slid back to the floor.
"Hey!" Willow fell to her knees and grabbed Tara. "This is not normal. You need a doctor. Now."
"Just a little weak," Tara insisted. She shivered. "And cold."
Willow frowned and bit her lip. She was not happy with the situation. She looked over her shoulder at the stall door and cleared her throat.
"Buffy!" Willow called out. She waited a moment, knowing her best friend’s Slayer hearing was better than most dogs. "Buffy?" she asked when she heard the outer door open.
"Willow, you guys okay?" Buffy asked from the hall.
"Could you help me get Tara back to the room?" Willow asked. She saw Tara about to protest and shook her head. She opened the door and helped Tara stand.
"What’s up?" Buffy asked. She cringed. "And I do not mean that literally."
"Tara’s not feeling well." Willow wrapped one arm around Tara while Buffy went to the opposite side and guided the weakened blonde witch toward the hall.
"Willow?" Tara’s voice was strained. She looked around the empty hall.
"Oh, boy," Willow said as she settled Tara into Buffy’s arms and ran back to the restroom. She came back with an empty wastebasket and carried it alongside her lover. "Just in case," she told Buffy when the Slayer’s eyes widened.
They made it back to the room without incident and Willow made sure Tara was snuggled safely in bed with the wastebasket nearby.
"Willow, what’s wrong?" Buffy asked as soon as the redhead moved away from the bed.
"Could be anything." Willow looked at her best friend and went into full babble mode. "I mean, she’s got a headache and fever and she’s feeling sick so it could be flu or a cold…" Her eyes widened further. "Headache? Buffy, it could be meningitis! Or rabies!" She spun and looked at Tara. "Or malaria, or…or cholera! Or bubonic plague!" Willow’s eyes widened. "I didn’t check under her arms for black nodules. It could be bubonic plague!"
"Willow, I don’t think it’s malaria or cholera or bubonic plague." Buffy rolled her eyes. "What have we told you about watching the Discovery channel?"
Willow sighed and bit her lip. "That diseases from the 1800s do not infect modern college students." She looked into Buffy’s eyes. "But some people died from meningitis this year in northern California."
"Could this be… magical?" Buffy asked slowly.
"Why would you ask that?" Willow’s eyes narrowed and she looked over at Tara. She noticed the candle on the dresser and then she looked over at the salt on the floor. She had simply run out the door past it earlier, barely registering its presence. "Why did Tara do a protection spell last night?" Willow’s voice was low and dangerous.
"It’s a dream ward," Buffy explained. "Kelly was bleeding into Tara’s dreams."
Willow frowned and her eyes narrowed.
"Could she have done something to Tara?" Buffy asked.
"I don’t know," Willow said. She looked over at Tara. The blonde had drifted off to sleep. "But I’m gonna’ find out."
Willow jogged up the stairs to Tara’s dorm room. She had not imagined meeting Tara’s ex this way, but if Tara was in danger, Kelly Larson was about to meet witchy-pissed-off-Willow Rosenberg.
The redhead went directly to her lover’s door and almost walked in without knocking. She had her own key and she was so at home in Tara’s room that knocking felt foreign. ‘Okay, be polite,’ Willow thought. ‘Buffy said be polite until you find something out.’ She rapped on the door. ‘Then I’ll get witchy on her scrawny Maybeline not a super model ass.’
She heard movement inside the room and then the door handle rattled.
"Tara?" Kelly asked as she pulled the door back. Her eyes opened wide. "Oh." She backed up. "I, I’m sorry, Tara isn’t here. Can I take a message?"
"I know where Tara is," Willow said as politely as she could. She walked into the room past the startled young model.
"Um, I’m Kelly." The jet haired woman stared at Willow as the redhead paced the small dorm. "Oh!" she said as she moved over to the bed and gathered her things. "You must be Willow."
"Yes, I am." Willow spun and studied Kelly.
"Um, well, where’s Tara?" Kelly looked as uncomfortable as Willow felt.
"Have you been doing any spells?" Willow demanded.
"What?" Kelly stood and glared at Willow. "Oh, you’re… you’re a witch too?"
Willow nodded. She crossed her arms over her chest and waited for an answer.
"Why do you think I’d do a spell?" Kelly asked.
"Oh, I don’t know," Willow said angrily. "Maybe because you were in Tara’s dreams?"
Kelly closed her eyes and sighed. "I was afraid of that." She opened her ice blue eyes and looked at Willow. "I dreamt of her too. It’s because we haven’t been so close together in such a long time." She moved next to Willow. "I am so sorry. I thought it wore off. My dreams stopped after a few hours."
"Tara did a ward." Willow eyed the young woman. She wasn’t sure she trusted her
"A ward. I should have thought of that," Kelly whispered. "I’m sorry if this is upsetting you." She leaned down to look into Willow’s eyes. "Is that why Tara sent you?"
"Tara’s sick," Willow accused.
"What?" Kelly’s eyes shot opened wide. She paced the room and rushed to her duffel bag. "What happened?" She dug through her things and pulled out a small leather bound notebook. "What’s wrong with her? Has this happened before?" She spun and faced Willow.
"Well, no…" Willow was taken off guard by Kelly’s reaction. "Why? Do you know what it is?"
"I’m sorry," Kelly said sincerely. "I can’t talk to you about it." She looked toward the door. "I really need to see Tara, now."
"No, you really need to tell me what the hell is going on," Willow corrected. She stepped into front of Kelly and glared at her.
"Look, I know you’re worried, but I don’t know what all Tara’s told you," Kelly said delicately. "I am not going to break her confidence." She waved her notebook at Willow and then nodded at the door. "Let’s go see her and if she says I can tell you, I will."
"Tara and I don’t have secrets," Willow said angrily. She stepped out of Kelly’s way and let her go into the hallway. "And I don’t like you giving me orders, but I want to get back to Tara."
"Right now all that matters is Tara," Kelly said bitterly.
"Well, at least we agree on something," Willow said under her breath. She followed the dark-haired witch into the hall.
"Right here," Willow said as she opened the door to her dorm. She pulled it open and hurried inside. "Tara?" she asked when she saw Buffy sitting beside the blonde with Giles pacing nearby. "Giles? What is Giles doing here?" She rushed over to the bed.
"She’s still sick," Buffy explained. "I asked Giles to come over with his books."
"I can’t find any sign of a cause," Giles said instead of offering a greeting. "It might just be a bug."
"Bug?" Tara tried to sit up.
"An illness," Giles corrected with a tolerant smirk.
"Oh." Tara leaned back into the pillows. "Hey," she said as she smiled up at Willow.
"Hey, yourself." Willow leaned down and kissed Tara’s forehead, letting he lips linger to test her lover’s temperature. "I love you," she whispered before she pulled back.
"Love you." Tara smiled and squeezed Willow’s hand.
Kelly cleared her throat from the doorway.
"Kelly…" Tara stared at her ex and then looked over at Willow.
"Come in," Willow said reluctantly. She didn’t like Kelly, and the model gave Willow a major case of the hebbie jebbies.
"Hi." Kelly walked into the room and went toward Tara. She paused a few feet from the bed and picked at her leather bound notebook. "Are you okay?"
Tara nodded. Her eyes locked on the notebook and he felt her pulse pound.
"That’s Giles and I’m Buffy." The Slayer stepped forward and extended her hand.
"Kelly, Kelly Larson." The model shook Buffy’s hand.
"Yeah, I kinda’ figured that part out what with your famous face and all." Buffy released the model’s hand and looked over at Tara. "You sure you won’t go to the hospital? Willow seems to think you have meningitis… or rabies."
Tara rolled her eyes. "Honey, no more Discovery channel for you." She smirked despite her throbbing temples.
"Tara, how long have you been feeling this way?" Kelly moved closer. Her eyes were concerned, almost frightened.
"Since last night," Tara answered. "Why?"
"Well, um…" Kelly looked at the others in the room and then raised both eyebrows. "Can we talk privately?"
"Willow and I don’t have secrets." Tara took her lover’s hand and pulled Willow onto the bed next to her.
Willow nodded and smiled smugly.
"And I trust Giles and Buffy," Tara added.
Kelly narrowed her eyes and looked at the notebook in her hands.
"It’s okay," Tara assured her former lover.
"They know?" Kelly’s eyes widened. "About the… you know?"
"We know that Tara is a witch," Giles said with a sigh. "Now if you know why she’s ill, please tell us."
Kelly gave Tara one last chance to change her mind, then cleared her throat. "I think your demon side is asserting itself," Kelly said gravely. "I know you thought you could keep in down, but you did turn twenty a few months ago."
"Doubtful," Giles said quietly.
Tara squirmed as she wondered how to explain that her own family had lied to her about being a demon just to control her.
"Demons are real," Kelly said angrily. "You people have no idea how to help Tara. I do."
"Oh, we know demons are real," Willow said. She smirked at the jet haired model. "It’s just that your information is way out of date."
"Kelly, I’m not a demon," Tara said. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply as a wave of nausea hit. She swallowed hard to keep the bile down and then looked over at her exlover.
"You’re controlling it?" Kelly rushed forward, ignoring the angry look from Willow. She grabbed Tara’s free hand and knelt next to her. "How? That’s great. Which spell?"
"No spell," Tara said. She eased her hand free and looked up at Willow and smiled warmly. "I’m not a demon. I never was."
"But…" Kelly’s eyes showed her confusion.
"Her family lied," Giles said. "There is nothing demonic in Tara."
"And you’re all… you’re just fine with witches and demons and stuff?" Kelly was shocked. She had expected the others to recoil when they found out about Tara’s demon side, and now she found out that Tara had no demon side. She frowned and looked around the room.
"Tara’s our family," Buffy said as she smiled over at Willow.
"I need use the rest room, can you show me where it is?" Kelly asked.
"It’s just down the hall," Tara said. She leaned into Willow and closed her eyes.
"I’ll be right back." Kelly bolted from the room.
"Well, that was just… odd," Willow said. "Suspicious even," she added with a frown. "I think she’s up to something."
"Honey, I’ve known her since I was born," Tara whispered. "She’d never do anything suspicious or odd."
Buffy looked up at Giles and raised an eyebrow. She looked at the door, wondering if she should follow Kelly, but the Watcher shook his head.
Tara started to comment but then doubled over in the bed as a sharp pain drove into her belly. She whimpered as she squeezed Willow’s hand.
"Baby?" Willow nearly panicked. She didn’t know if she should stand or remain seated with her lover. "Giles?" She looked from Giles to Buffy hoping one of them would know what to do.
"Tara, can you sit up?" Giles asked as he rested his hand on her shoulder.
Tara nodded and straightened up. She frowned, surprised that the pain was gone. "I…I think I’m better." She smiled. "Musta’ been a twenty-four hour rabies." She smiled and bit her lip.
"No rabies!" Willow stood and glared at her lover. "Rabies is not a joke. It’s very serious."
Tara smirked at her lover.
"Okay, so I may have been overreacting," Willow admitted. "About the rabies, not the sickness."
"It is odd," Giles agreed.
"Easy," Buffy said as she watched Tara sitting up. "Okay, so you are recuperating like a Slayer here."
"I feel fine," Tara insisted.
The door opened and Kelly leaned into the room. "Hi. Hey, you’re feeling better?" She came into the room and rushed toward Tara. "Wow."
"All better," Tara said. "See?" She held out her arms.
Willow stepped between Tara and Kelly and glared at the model. "Why did Tara get better as soon as you left the room?" the redhead challenged.
"What?" Kelly backed away.
"Willow, Kelly wasn’t even here when I got sick," Tara pointed out.
"Yeah, but you didn’t get sick until she came to town," Buffy chimed in.
"I don’t know why you all suspect me," Kelly said quietly. "I would never hurt Tara." She glared at Willow. "She and I have been bound since birth. If I hurt her, I hurt myself."
"Guess that didn’t apply to cheating on her and breaking her heart, now did it," Willow said bitterly.
"Stop acting like I’m not even in the room." Tara crawled out of the bed and went to Willow’s side. "I don’t like seeing you fighting."
"I’m worried," Willow admitted.
"I’m not a threat to Tara or you two," Kelly said with a smile. She looked into Willow’s eyes. "I want Tara to be happy, and she is very happy with you."
Willow opened her mouth to comment, but then paused. She hadn’t expected Kelly to be so supportive.
"See?" Tara tugged Willow closer. "No matter what happened between us, she wants me to be happy, love. That means with you."
"Well…" Willow studied the dark haired model.
"Maybe I should just go to a hotel," Kelly said. "I’m sure Claire won’t find me."
"No!" Tara let go of Willow’s hand and rushed forward. "You can stay in my dorm."
"No, Tari." Kelly shook her head and backed away. "I didn’t want to cause problems for you. I shouldn’t have called. I’m sorry, Willow." She turned and headed for the door. "I’m sure Claire isn’t mad anymore."
"You can’t just go back to her." Tara rested her hand on Kelly’s shoulder. "She stole from you. She hurt you."
"She never left a mark on me," Kelly said as she spun and faced her former lover. The model looked scared, like a mouse caught between a cat and a wolf. "Tara, you can’t go around saying that." She grabbed Tara’s hand and pleaded with her eyes.
Willow’s stomach dropped. She had seen the same look of terror in Tara’s eyes when she talked about her brother. Suddenly Willow wasn’t so sure having Kelly leave was the best thing.
"You said she never touched you," Tara said in a harsh whisper. She pulled Kelly away from the others and ran her hands over her face, carefully searching her exlover’s hairline for any sign of an injury. Lifted Kelly’s arm and pushed up her shirtsleeves and found a yellowing bruise around her wrist. "What’s this?" Tara accused.
Buffy’s back stiffened. She didn’t like anyone being hurt.
"Tari, please." Kelly yanked her arm away and looked at the floor. Her full lips trembled. "If the press were to find out…" Her voice trailed off.
"So there is something to find out?" Tara leaned down and locked eyes with her childhood friend. "You think I’d just leave you with someone like that?" She pointed at Kelly’s wrist.
"I left you," Kelly whispered.
Willow flinched and took a step back. She wrapped her arms over her chest and didn’t know what to do. She wanted to go to Tara, but the moment was so private she felt like an intruder.
"Perhaps I should be going," Giles said. He also felt out of place, and since Tara wasn’t ill any longer, he wanted away from the tense situation.
Tara looked up at the Watcher and smiled. "Thank you, Mister Giles, for checking on me."
"Well, of course," he said as he cleared his throat. "You’re very important to all of us." His cheeks tinted pink as he blushed. "Especially Willow."
Willow nodded and moved closer to her lover.
Tara gave Willow a half grin and held out her hand. The redhead let out a sigh of relief and hurried to her beautiful blonde lover’s side. "I’m glad you’re here," Tara whispered as she kissed Willow’s cheek.
Buffy shuffled her feet and started heading for the door. She wanted to escape with Giles. The conversation was extremely private and she felt like she shouldn’t be in the same building, let alone the same room.
"Buffy, wait." Tara pinned the Slayer in her gaze. "Could you stay?"
"O…. kay…" Buffy furrowed her brow and wondered why she was needed in the room. She waved to Giles as he opened the door, wishing she could leave with him.
"Thanks, Giles," Willow said. She was holding one of Tara’s hands and was running the fingers of her free hand over her blonde lover’s arm.
"Any time," Giles said with a kind smile. "Although, I would prefer that none of you take ill." He nodded toward Buffy. "I’ll see you for your workout later, yes?"
"Absolutely," Buffy assured him.
The door closed and Kelly looked around the room not making eye contact. After a moment Tara broke the silence.
"Kelly, these are my friends, and they help people. We help people," Tara explained. "If Claire is hurting you, you have to let us help."
"It’s nothing," Kelly insisted.
"Well, that bruisey wrist doesn’t look like nothing." Willow nodded toward the injured limb.
"We’re kinda’ bruise experts," Buffy added. "And that one looks like fingerprints around your wrist."
"Why should you help me?" Kelly asked all of them the question, but her eyes locked on Willow’s.
"Because, it’s what we do." Willow smiled and looked over at Tara. "And because you and Tara are friends."
"Wow." Kelly smiled at Willow. "You really are something special."
"Yes, she is." Tara smiled broadly and nodded enthusiastically.
"There’s not much to tell," Kelly admitted. "Claire was embezzling from my petty cash fund and I caught her. When I confronted her and threatened to call the police, she panicked."
"Police? Well, how much money are we talking about?" Willow asked.
"Two point four million dollars are missing," Kelly said casually.
"Million!" Tara said as her eyes almost bulged out of her head. "From petty cash?"
"Well, yeah." Kelly shrugged. "All the big money is handled by an accounting firm."
"Oh, the big money," Buffy said as she leaned against the wall. "Of course."
"Two point four million?" Willow was in shock. "I can’t even imagine having the point four million in petty cash, let alone the two to go in front of the point four."
"The money doesn’t matter," Tara said as she crossed her arms over her chest. "When did she hurt you?" Tara’s slate blue eyes bored into Kelly’s soul, willing her lifelong friend not to make light of the abuse.
"A few times," Kelly admitted. "But she hasn’t done it in ages." She saw Tara shift her gaze to the recent injury and sighed. "Except for that."
"Are you going to leave her?" Tara asked.
"She’s my agent, Tari." Kelly glared at the blonde Wiccan.
"Well, you can’t just stay with someone who hurt you," Willow insisted. She looked over at her best friend. "Buffy, you can go… talk to this Claire and let her know that hitting is not an option…not unless she wants you to do some hitting too."
"Willow, Buffy is not our private enforcer," Tara said with a sad smile.
"No offense, but she’d be more likely to model for Claire than to scare her." Kelly looked at Buffy and scowled. She couldn’t imagine anyone being intimidated by the petite blonde.
"I do have nice cheek bones," Buffy agreed.
"And lips," Willow added. "You’ve got really sexy full lips." She saw Tara’s eyes narrow and quickly backpedaled. "For a straight friend who I have absolutely no interest in… in a physical way."
"Look, it’s not your problem anyway," Kelly said with a sigh. "I just need to hide out for a few days while Claire cools off. Then I can go back and figure out what to do in LA."
"We could have Angel make some calls," Willow suggested. "Maybe Cordy knows an agent."
"I have another agent I could call," Kelly said quietly. "It’s just that as soon as I do, Claire’s gonna’ out me."
"She knows you’re… a… that you’re… that you…" Buffy tried to find the right words but none actually came out of her mouth.
"That I only take women to bed?" Kelly suggested.
"Um, yeah, that." Buffy blushed.
Willow noticed that Kelly used the plural form, which to Willow meant that Kelly was still playing the field. She stored the information for future possible use.
"Claire and Kelly are… were a couple," Tara volunteered.
"Oh…" Buffy was now thoroughly confused, and then she remembered that Willow had told her about the woman who had discovered Kelly. "Oh…" Buffy said with a nod of her head. "Got it."
"So, I should just go back to your dorm and hang out." Kelly cleared her throat and backed toward the door.
"Well, you could hang out with us," Buffy suggested before she saw Willow’s eyes shoot open wide. "I mean, with me," she amended. "My kid sister would be thrilled to meet you."
Willow bit her lip. As much as she wanted Kelly gone, Dawnie would be excited to meet a real live Maybeline model.
"Would that be okay?" Kelly asked Tara.
Tara looked to Willow. She wouldn’t do anything to make her lover uncomfortable. "Baby?" she asked quietly.
"Sure." Willow wrapped her arms around Tara and kissed her lightly on the lips. "Besides, Dawnie would kill us if we let this chance get away."
"I’ll just go get showered and changed," Kelly said with a smile. She hurried out the door and down the hall.
Buffy stared at the closed door and then her eyes slowly drifted back to Willow.
"Okay, she’s not completely evil," Willow admitted begrudgingly. She kissed Tara’s temple. "Just seeing my baby sick makes me a little crazy."
"It’s okay, love." Tara turned in Willow’s arms and kissed the redhead’s forehead. "That twenty-four hour rabies is very upsetting."
"Do you want me to spank you right in front of Buffy, because I will," Willow threatened.
"Dear lord, no!" Buffy covered her eyes and giggled. "I really don’t want to see any kinky stuff you picked up from vampire Willow."
"Buffy!" Willow laughed as she swatted at the Slayer.
"You didn’t tell me about any kinky vampire Willow stuff." Tara leaned down and locked eyes with Willow. "You holding out on me?"
"You don’t want to know," Willow assured her lover. She smirked when Tara gave her a skeptical look. "Okay, fine." Willow leaned closer and ran her tongue up the length of Tara’s neck, making certain that it left a thick, wet streak along her throat.
"Oh, gross!" Tara scooted away and wiped her neck.
"You wanted to know," Willow said primly. "Blame Buffy."
"Buffy, you couldn’t have warned me?" Tara was wiping her neck, but there was a smile kissing her lips.
"I figured you knew all of Willow’s lick and tongue related secrets," Buffy said innocently. She realized what she had just said and blushed deep crimson. "That is not what I meant!"
"I know them all now." Tara smiled seductively as she went over and took Willow’s hand.
"Okay, that look is pure evil." Buffy pointed at Tara. The blonde was looking at Willow like she wanted to literally devour her on the spot.
"Yes, it is. Lucky me." Willow waggled her eyebrows and pushed Tara onto the nearby bed. She laughed as Buffy spun around and covered her ears and began humming loudly so she couldn’t hear anything unseemly.
In Tara’s dorm room, Kelly opened her book of Shadows. She had to use a different plan now. She had cast a spell to release Tara’s demon side, but since the young witch apparently didn’t have any demonic energy, it had almost went horribly wrong. Kelly shivered. She had been certain that Tara was part demon, and if she had had any doubt, she never would have endangered her beloved by using the spell. Tara could have been killed, or worse.
"Perfect!" Kelly said when she found the spell she needed. She read through the ingredients and smiled. She had everything she needed except one item, but she could get that easy enough. She just had to find a way to get a drop of Tara’s blood and then her long lost lover would be hers again forever.