It had been close to three weeks since Willow had come back to Sunnydale to watch over her parents. To her, it felt like three years. Sheila Rosenberg had eventually gotten back to her usual self, chattering on for hours about everything and nothing, her eyes darting about bright and birdlike. Willow noticed that, while her mother seemed the same on the outside, she could tell that she was damaged even so. At three o'clock every afternoon, Willow would take her mother to Dr. Feinstein, a family friend who was a psychologist that specialized in stress and disassociative disorders. She would sit in the waiting room, clicking away busily on her laptop, catching up on email, doing work assignments, anything to avoid thinking about how difficult things were. Her father's convalescence was a little more smooth by contrast. He was sitting up in bed on his own by the end of the first week and grew more stubborn and impatient with each passing day. He insisted on being allowed to go to his office in the den to complete his work. It was only when Willow suggested that straining his injured eye might induce more permanent damage, that he backed down and became slightly more cooperative.
Tara found some way to communicate with Willow almost every day since she left; if it wasn't by email, it was by phone or even by webcam. Willow did her best to try not to show the fatigue she was feeling. However, Tara could sense how overwhelming things were becoming for her. She decided to ask Willow directly during one phone conversation if there was anything that she could do from her end to lighten the load.
"Are you sure that you're doing ok?" Tara asked in a concerned voice.
Willow took a deep breath and rubbed her eyes tiredly. "I'm about as good as I'll ever be considering the situation," she chuckled, trying to sound as chipper as possible.
"Well, please take it easy on yourself. Let your friends help you. You don't have to do everything yourself," Tara admonished. Willow had told her about Buffy and Xander helping her out in shifts initially. They wound up having to curtail their time, though, as the demands of their own jobs and families increased.
"Yes, Dr. Maclay," Willow teased.
"I mean it, Willow," Tara said in exasperation. "I'm worried about you, hon."
Willow was just too tired to argue. She readily agreed with Tara, hoping to get off the subject. They moved on to other things, Willow inquiring about how things were in Philadelphia and how Tara was doing at work. They talked for another half an hour before Willow had to hang up so that she could give her father his pain medication.
Tara sat at her desk in her office for quite some time after she finished talking to Willow. She had this nagging feeling that there was something that she should be doing to help. Chewing her lip thoughtfully, she pulled out the monstrosity that was the Philadelphia phone book, thumbing through it until she found the number she was looking for.
Seventeen hours later, Tara was wandering through the Byzantine maze that is LAX, trying to find the shuttle stop for the Hertz Rental Car service. Since it was almost 10 pm Pacific Time, the walkways were somewhat deserted, allowing Tara to travel unimpeded to her destination. Her mind was filled with meandering thoughts, half-excited to see Willow again and half-worried that she might only upset Willow with her unannounced visit. Hitching her carry-on bag on her shoulder, Tara put on her resolve face and stepped onto the waiting shuttle bus outside the American Airlines luggage pick-up gate. "It's now or never, Tara. You've got to show Willow that you mean business," she said to herself amongst the bouncing and jerking of the rather antiquated bus. "That your talk of love is real. This is will be one test that you just HAVE to pass." Rummaging around in one of the voluminous side pockets of her bag, Tara located her cell phone and pressed two buttons. Thankfully, Willow had emailed her best friend Buffy's phone number to her, just in case she couldn't be reached at home.
"Hello?" Buffy answered tiredly.
"H-hi! Umm, my name is Tara and I-I'm a close friend of Willow's," Tara remarked nervously. She gripped the phone tightly to keep it from slipping out of her suddenly-sweaty hands.
"Oh hey, Tara. Sorry if I sound out of it. Little sis decided that a Dr. Who all-nighter was in order so I was just vegging out. What's up?"
"Well, I'm in LA. I wanted to surprised Willow but I realized when I landed that I don't h-have any idea how to get to her house!"
Buffy chuckled at the end of the line. "No problem. You still remember how to get to Sunnydale? Duh! Of course you do!" she babbled. "Willow told me you went to UC Sunnydale. I feel like such a doofus. If you want, you can crash here and we'll go pick up Will for brunch or something tomorrow."
Tara sighed with relief. She had no idea how Willow's friend would respond to her just dropping in like this. "T-thank you so much. Umm... so what's your address?"
She tried to write down the Buffy's address despite the bumpy ride. Buffy told her to be careful and rang off. By that time, the shuttle had shuddered to a stop in front of the car rental booth. "Hertz, Avis and Rent-a-Wreck Car Rental Kiosks!" the driver called out in a bored tone. Tara took a deep exhausted breath and disembarked from the shuttle.
She made surprisingly good time considering the reputation of California highways for an almost constant backlog of traffic. Tara figured it was probably due to the fact that it was about 4am and no sane individual would be caught dead on the road at that early hour. She chuckled to herself as a couple of mightily amusing previous Willowcomments on her driving flitted through her mind. An odd mix of anxiety and tingly sexual anticipation flowed mercurially through her as she passed by the "Welcome To Sunnydale! Home of the Sunnydale Trojans, 2001-02 State Champions" dispelling the last vestiges of fatigue from her jet lagged muscles. It had been too long since she'd felt Willow's soft skin under her fingertips, kissed sweet Willowlips or bathed in the adoration from her vibrant green eyes. Tara turned down Rivello Drive, glancing back and forth between her hastily scribbled note and the numbers on the houses lining the street. After backtracking a couple of times, she finally found Buffy's house, set back slightly off the street, surrounded by lush green bushes and trees.
After parking the car across the street, Tara gathered her things, walked up to the Summers' home and knocked very quietly on the door. Buffy opened the door looking slightly disheveled. "Hey," she said sleepily. "Glad you got here in one piece."
"I had great directions," Tara replied quietly, so as not to disturb Dawn, who was gently snoring on the couch. Buffy smiled in response and led her through the house, giving her a brief tour in hushed tones. She led Tara to a rather spacious master bedroom and told her she could sleep there until breakfast. Dropping her bags onto a nearby chair, Tara removed her suit jacket and lay across the bed, her thoughts sluggish with weariness. "I wish that she were here right now. So close and yet still too damn far." She closed her eyes and descended into the realm of Morpheus.
Willow stumbled downstairs as the weak early morning rays of sunshine filtered through the kitchen windows. Her red hair was sticking up all around her head like porcupine quills and she was rather thankful that no one else was up to see her in such a state. Morning was so not her best time of day. She almost didn't hear the phone ringing above the loud whirring of the coffee grinder.
"Who could be calling at this hour?" she muttered irritatedly. "Hello?"
"Hey there, Wills. Rise and shine!" Buffy chirped brightly.
"Sounds like someone is a tad too perky this morning, " Willow groused.
"Now now, a grumpy Willow is no one's friend. How about we go to Shoney's for breakfast after you get your parents all squared away. My treat."
Willow raised an eyebrow in surprise. Buffy was the world's most notorious cheapskate and rarely offered to pay for meals unless she was up to something.
"Umm, Buff, please tell me that you didn't get another virus on your hard drive. 'Cause I TOLD you about downloading things without paying attention," she babbled, about to launch into a full-fledged lecture.
"Whoa whoa, there, pardner. Can't a girl take her best friend out for some happenin' eats?"
Willow rolled her eyes while pouring water into the coffee maker. "Hmph, I seem to remember a certain someone who took us to a place that was supposedly a friend's and we all wound up with botulism."
Buffy huffed in faux indignation. "You wound me, Will, you really do. I'm serious. I'll pick you up in an hour. I've got a surprise for you," she singsonged.
Willow was suddenly very very afraid.
Tara fussed with her blouse for the fifteenth time, glaring at the mirror before her. She was fairly sure that the mirror was taunting her with the most unflattering images of herself in every combination of clothing that she dared parade before it. She was wearing her nervousness at seeing Willow after a relatively long absence like a neon sign; you could read it for miles. Buffy had wandered into the bedroom by this time, was leaning on the doorjamb and silently regarding the fidgeting Tara. They had talked for a little while over their first morning cups of coffee; Buffy asking a few gently probing questions and Tara answering them with a surprising openness considering how Willow described her personality. It was apparent to her that Tara cared very deeply for Willow as her eyes sparkled and danced whenever her name was mentioned. "Practically two peas in a pod," Buffy chuckled inwardly. "I can only imagine what they're like together. One's introspective and the other is talkative. They've got to be like one big shy babbling brook. Sometimes getting off track but always wandering together." She winced at a particularly bright blouse that Tara picked up from the bed to model for the mirror. "But man, they really do need better fashion sense." "Ok, toots," she called to Tara, breaking her silence. "Time to pick up 'da Wills'. Think you're ready?"
Tara stared wistfully into the mirror for the last time, checking over the outfit she had finally settled on. Since it was kind of chilly outside at the moment, she decided that a lightweight cream coloured Donna Karan suit jacket would be fine, along with a maroon silk turtleneck, stonewashed DKNY jeans and a pair of black Rockport loafers for comfort. "I-I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be," Tara sighed. "Lead on."
Willow managed to get showered and dressed in a relatively short amount of time considering she still felt devoid of energy. She sat at the dining room table under the warm glow of her laptop screen puzzling over her latest work assignment. It seemed that work was her only escape from the tedium of her parents' convalescence. Sure, she and Tara talked pretty much constantly but it was not the same as having Tara there to hold and comfort her if she had a particularly bad day. Willow absently listened to KSUNI 90.3, the UC Sunnydale college radio station through Windows Media Player on her computer for a little background noise while attempting to debug several sections of code at once. After fifteen minutes of dissecting them, line by line, she was about to shut down the debugger in frustration, when a song she hadn't heard before filtered through the tiny speakers on her machine.
Baby, look around
Willow felt a curious warmth under her eyelids and realized that she was about to cry. "Damn it all. Why must I be such a nudgnik?" She shook her head in annoyance at herself but was still drawn to the lyrics for some inexplicable reason.
And dream about me without you
Laying her head sideways on the table, Willow closed her eyes and let the lilting voice of the singer wash over her. So absorbed in the music was she, that she did not hear the front door open and close. Tara had agreed to go into the Rosenberg house to get Willow while Buffy waited with the car running. When no one answered her repeated knocks, she found that the door was unlocked and opened it. The sounds of music greeted her as she stepped inside and, knowing Willow's penchant for all things music related, used it to guide her through the living room.
Your arms are open wide
"If I only had a magic penny," Willow muttered. "I'd wish Tara was here in a heartbeat."
Tara watched Willow from the entrance to the dining room, all amused at her Willowbabble. She slowly tiptoed behind Willow, surprised that she still had not noticed that there was someone else in the room.
And when we're face to face
Sensing that the last refrain was some sort of cue, Tara leaned down and wrapped her arms gently around Willow's slight frame. Breathing in the fresh honeysuckle scent of Willow's shampoo, Tara kissed her head and leaned down to her ear. "Wish granted," she breathed.