Fragments of Perception

by Cyd

Copyright © 2005

Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Many rich people own BtVS and its characters...I am not one of them.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse
Altered Shadows
The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe
No posting this story elsewhere without my consent.
Feedback: Sure.
Spoilers: Not really.
Pairing: Willow/Tara

Summary: What happens when you lose yourself?

Part 1: Wiping the Slate Clean

The first three days I said not one word in the limited time I was awake. I blinked occasionally and I ate when the blonde spoon-fed me bland hospital offerings. A brunette helped with dinners. She was younger than the other visitors and she cried. She was the only one who cried in my presence. The rest of them left, I suppose, when the mood struck them and returned with red rimmed eyes. All except one of them. She never cried, my private spoonfeeding nurse. She was a rock. My rock? I had my first recalled memory about her…something about shrimp. She was allergic to shrimp…that's it. Oh, I forgot to mention…I lost my memory six days ago.

Six Days Ago

Willow watched Spike fall from the scaffolding with a thud and then saw Buffy remove the threat and release Dawn. The ritual had started…the dimensions were beginning to overlap. The redhead squeezed Tara's uninjured hand and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Then she teleported up to the Summers' sisters. It was a good thing she'd been tweaking that spell for pinpoint accuracy. Of course the bad thing was that it now gave her intense gushing nosebleeds.

"Stop Buffy…her blood has stopped flowing over the portal…I can reverse this."

She put her hands over the magickal eruption and felt its boiling energy. She gave it form, concentrating until a long corridor of slowly opening doors appeared. The witch projected herself into the created form and began shifting from door to door, shutting them firmly. The hallway began to shrink as each doorway to a different dimension was sealed…but her power was draining fast. She put more effort into moving faster until finally there was only one door left…the one back to her own Sunnydale. An eternity seemed to expire before she backed through it and shut the passage.

On closure, her essence smashed back into her slender body and she whimpered. The anomaly collapsed in on itself and flung her onto the roof of a nearby building. On impact it was lights out, good day, and happy days are here again for the rest of the world.

On the tenth morning since my accident, I tried to say 'salutations' to the doctor as he came in for his early rounds. It sounded more like 'solutions', which in retrospect, was way too long a word to try out first because of the whole inactive vocal cord thing. My rock was sleeping in an armchair with her cheek pressed against an open space on the bed. She jumped at my voice and reached for my hand. I did a long blink…the kind where you squeeze your eyes real tight and then open them fast. "Hi," I said hazily. 'Hi' was a much shorter and, therefore, a much more suitable word for my status. Maybe I'll only speak in two letter words for the rest of the day.

"Sweetie?" the blonde asked softly, like a light plea. I let my bleary eyes pass over her and attempted to make contact with her own. Her eyes were blue…captivating and warm. I tried to smile but it felt like somebody had rang all my teeth…like those little dinner bell triangles in westerns. I settled on an unfocused half-smile. It was enough…she positively beamed.

"Ms. Rosenberg, how are you feeling today?" an overenthusiastic nurse asked. She must have entered the room when I adverted my eyes away from the door. I assume that to be me. My name that is.

I answered with a plaintive, "Ugh." Most people would have equated that as the international noise for 'In pain…please give undocumented amounts of morphine goodness and leave quietly.' She believed it was a precursor to higher conversation. She began to fuss with the gadgets and bags around me, blabbering about something or the other…I tuned her out and went back to sleep.

"Will?" the blonde called out as she arrived on the afternoon of my thirteenth day. The shorter blonde, not my rock. I wish they would wear nametags. Except I don't want to wish…something about wishes are bad. I'll have to file that partial memory in the 'what the hell' stack. There really weren't enough memories in any location to actually form stacks. And certainly no reason to have a filey-folder system for said nonexistent stacks.

"Are you sure she spoke the other day?" the brunette girl asked. "Because she still looks a little out of it to me."

"I did," I slurred unassuredly. Six wide eyeballs darted at my mouth. I wondered briefly if I was drooling. Will…the root for Willow. Willow Rosenberg. I slapped that in the 'woohoo' bin.

"Willow…" the melodic voice of my rock lilted soothingly. As she interweaved our hands, I realized she had a cast on her other one. They also all seemed to be waiting for a response.

"Broken rock?" I obligingly asked, gesturing stiffly towards the cast. Their faces were a mixture of curiosity, confusion, and fear. Clearly that was not helpful. I tried again. "Please sign your name in the registry." Crap…I better go back to sleep.

"Giles tell me something," Buffy demanded as she walked through the door of the Magic Box. Her slayer nerves were twitchy…this was the kind of problem she wanted solved now. Not to mention she felt guilty. Her best friend, her big gun, really did come through in the end. But this was all wrong…if anybody deserved to be in a hospital bed it was the slayer. I mean saving the world was a slayer's destiny. Why did she push the weight of the world on the little shoulders of the redhead?

The watcher blew a quiet breath of air out his nose. The Scoobies, all save Tara, were gathered around the table pouring through insurmountable stacks of literature. His continued silence was enough of a bad news indicator. "I have been unable to determine what sort of spell she used to close the portal. I have found no similar instances in any of the books in my collection. I'm sending for several rare chronicles from the council on dimensional phenomena and they should arrive in a few days."

"She's being released tomorrow…into our care," the slayer interrupted and reported the news in a level tone. "I couldn't find her parents so they released her on Tara's power of attorney." A flash of anger sparked at the unavailability and inattentiveness of Will's mother and father.

"But, she's not well," Dawn said worriedly. "She should stay until she's better." The teenager nearly insisted.

"They've done all they can, Dawnster." Xander placed a hand lightly on her forearm.

"Meager human doctors can't repair the magickally backlashed remains of Willow's brain," Anya candidly agreed. Dawn scowled at her before placing her head in her hands.

"Ahn," Xander started tinged with irritation and she winced slightly. He knew she was truly concerned and his face softened in regret. "Let's go get dinner for everyone." They left solemnly and were barely noticed by the remainder of the group.

"What do you need?" Giles asked with concern.

"Can you watch Dawn tonight? I'm dragging Tara out of the hospital and moving their stuff from the dorms to," she paused hard. "To my mom's room. They're releasing her at eight a.m. Can you give us a lift?"

Certainly," he replied, removing his glasses and wiping them thoroughly. "I'm calling a coven in England tonight and asking for some guidance." He returned his glasses to his face. "Don't give up hope, Buffy. She's a strong young woman and we will continue searching until we have some answers."

Buffy wrapped her arms around the older man, holding back her tears. She wasn't going to quit. She was going to find a way to get her Willow back if she had to go to every damn dimension to do it.

They wheeled me to the front entrance in a very unnecessary chair. My legs were working just fine, after all. My bruised ribs were healing nicely the doctor had said. Nicely shouldn't hurt so much. My rock, I mean Tara, was a weary wreck. I did finally learn their names. Right after I told them I had no clue who they were. Threw them for quite a loop, I guess.

Things weren't really that much clearer in the fog factory that was my squishy, squishy brain. I did slowly realize, however, that I knew a lot of things. Like an informational manual. Computers-how to identify components, how to debug code, how to hack into the DMV…I began wondering how illicit my use of that last skill had been. Books…I had read a ton of them I was sure. For some reason it seemed I had read Call of the Wild about ten times. I don't even think it was my favorite book or anything. I was pretty sure I could solve math, physics, and chemistry problems in the blink of an eye. Yeah, I was pretty smart. It was all the little things that kept tripping me up.

Like what's my favorite color? Food? Shirt? What do I do for a living? Any hobbies? How long have I known my friends? Is the blonde really my girlfriend? Just the little, really important details.

"Sharp wheels," I said as casually as my jumping nerves would allow. Tara, Buffy, and Giles shared a look that I couldn't put my finger on. Buffy helped me out of the wheelchair, picking me up effortlessly, and placing me into the back seat next to Tara. She is really strong for someone nearly as small as I am.

We drove in silence. I gave a sidelong glance to the blonde next to me. She really was beautiful…in a subtle, effortless sort of way. I guess I have good taste. She had been trying with a quiet resolve, since she found out about my lack of memory, to give me breathing room. That didn't stop her from showing that she cared…she still spent nearly all day in the room, it just seemed she considered her actions before going through with them. Still, after seventeen days, the only reason I only knew she was my girl was because Anya had so straightforwardly asked how I could forget Tara after she gave me so many orgasms.

We turned the corner at Revello Drive and pulled into 1630. I thought it might be my house until I saw the colorful mailbox with 'Summers' written on it. The room they put me in was full of unpacked boxes. "I don't live here?"

"No, we thought it would be easier for you here with all of us around," Buffy replied kindheartedly.

"Where do I live then?"

"You were living on campus at UC-Sunnydale. Your parents live two blocks away. With all that was going on we didn't know your plans for summer housing." It sounded vague the way she said it…and she wouldn't look me in the eye after she spoke.

"Oh…" I hung the little noise longer than necessary. So I'm a student…makes sense. I was unsure of what to say about anything whirling around me. Buffy seemed to understand…she left me just after a brief, awkward hug.

I skimmed over the boxes labeled with my name, carefully avoiding the ones marked with Tara's. I found several boxes of books (some textbooks, some novels), a box of toiletries, a laptop, and one chest of cute little knickknacks like candles, incense, and crystals. Lots of whimsical stuffed animals and cartoon characters printed on bright T-shirts. I pulled out the laptop and powered it up…only to find out I needed a password to start the operating system. I set the machine aside and looked for something that could jump-start my noggin. Just as I found a composition notebook labeled journal and a photo album, Dawn called up the stairs and invited me down for dinner.

Dinner made me feel queasy - both the eating and the atmosphere. All of the friendly researchers watched me from the corners of their respective eyes. As if they were looking for familiar mannerisms or waiting for me to have some eureka moment. It made for a quiet room. I ate little and excused myself like an annoyed preteen having dinner with her parents.

The journal was nearly empty. The first and only entry expressed my sorrow over the death of Buffy's mom. Then it strangely talked about breakfast foods. I stared at the last line on the page and snickered. Tara…I want to remember my every last everything with you…Love, Willow.

I threw the book at the wall just as Tara opened the door to the room. I covered my ribs as inauspiciously as possible…that majorly hurt. "Come in," I chirped, fake mirth abundant in my voice. She raised an eyebrow and looked at the notebook crumpled on the floor.

"Need anything?" she questioned softly. I shook my head, watching how she eyed the floor intently. Something was on her mind.

"So what is it that has you in knots?" I folded my legs under my body on the bed and tried to look comfortable and relaxed. Her nervousness was rubbing off on me.

She stared at my eyes for a moment…searching the windows to my soul or some such poetic license. I wondered if my eyes gave me away to everyone. Or maybe it was just her. I kinda hoped it was the latter…did we have that deep of a connection? "I just need to get my pajamas and I'll b-be out of your way."

She only stutters with me when she nervous. That thought broke through in high definition clarity. Of course I'd already clued in that she was antsy but…PJ's…sleeping…she's sleeping somewhere else?

"So we didn't live together?" I asked on a hunch. She turned and flashed a half smile. My heart thumped merrily.

"Well…we had separate dorm rooms but we usually…" She smirked and gestured her hands in a 'and so on' fashion. Double thump. "There was this whole system of which room to stay in when…and charts and schedules."

"Sounds very ordered," I replied. "But we don't sleep together anymore?" I used a sad little puppy dog voice I didn't know I had.

She cocked her head in a way that suggested she knew that tone too. "I thought you would want a little space…to sort things out." She went into the master bathroom and came back out in a tank top and long pajama bottoms. "Unless you want me to, you know…" she hesitated and then whispered the last part, "stay."

I could sense an intense vulnerability and need in that one almost inaudible word. She was certainly shaken up over my condition and, maybe, over other life matters long lost to me. And she was looking for comfort…safety. Hell, so was I. "Stay," I responded, patting the empty side of the bed. A ghost of the gentlest smile I had ever seen in my life graced her jawline. Thump, Thump, Thump…my head may have forgotten her but my heart sure hadn't.

Part 2: These Friends of Mine

Tara woke up with a cold shudder of horror. She lifted her head over Willow's slumbering body to peer at the clock.

Two hours.

She had slept two hours this time.

Her hand was throbbing. The doctors had been forced to perform another surgery that night the Scoobies saved the world. They realigned the pins and screws and returned her injury to a cast. As soon as she had been cognizant the next morning, she signed herself out and went to Willow.

She had refused to take her prescribed pain pills. They made her sleepy and she had to stay awake. To wait for her.

Because she was asleep and wouldn't wake up.

Not even when Tara whispered in her ear and asked her to.

When she did finally wake on the fourth day, it was only for a few minutes. Her breathing had been shallow and her eyes dim. She had fluttered so quickly back to sleep.

Still Tara stayed awake.

She wanted to be there for those random flashes when Willow would come around for a few precious minutes. To feel the warmth of her hand. To give her spoonfuls of a mushy meal. To hear her speak again.

"I really want to remember who you are, but I can't. Remember that is."

And all Tara could think at that moment was how could she not know Willow and still sound so much like her?

The blonde sat up and reached for the bottle of pills that sat on her side table. Willow's sat on the bureau, organized by what time of day she had to take them. The morning pills were on the right ("Well that's east…like the Sun."), the lunch pills in the middle, and the dinner and night pills on the left.

"I could organize them by the color spectrum, but then I might forget to take one."

"No, you wouldn't. You'd never forget that."

There had been an uncomfortable silence when Tara said that. Willow had given her a sad little curve of her lips and went back to unpacking a box on the floor.

Tara looked over at the redhead who was still fast asleep. She was doing better. Not quite as dazed or weak. She could get up without dizziness, focusing more readily. She was concentrating so hard to try to remember things. She must have studied every piece of property she owned for hours the last few days.

Tara didn't have the heart to tell her she acts more like herself when she's not trying at all.

The blonde breathed deeply of the air wafting through the window. It smelled delightful, the scent of freshly fallen rain.

As much as she tried to relax and enjoy it, the scent did not calm her.

She looked at the white pill in her hand but froze before she could place it in her mouth.

The pill would make her sleepy…but that was okay now…Willow was doing better.

Except there was someone waiting for her to sleep. The very thing that had once taken her sanity away. It waited for her in the dark…in the cold…waited to come and take her again.

She put the pill back in the bottle.

Tara stayed awake once more.

There was an anxiety among the group as they sat around the Magic Box.

"We should keep the slayer, magicky, Hellmouthy stuff away from Willow right now as she's had such a way too much of a trauma to need add that to it."

Buffy's suggestion was being weighed but not liked by anyone.

"I don't know if you noticed but our life kinda revolves around this stuff," Xander said as he motioned at the objects sitting on the shelves.

"And secrets always work so well around here," Anya muttered quietly as she counted the tally for the day and put the money into neat piles.

"That's the soddin' truth," Spike added.

"Look, you're here to help us…otherwise I'll throw you out on the sidewalk and sweep what's left into the gutter."

"Yeah, yeah…slayer's gonna kill the big bad," the peroxide vamp mocked as he picked up a book and continued scanning.

Tara didn't believe that they could try to draw a line so easily between the two. Buffy and the slayer. Tara and the witch. There was no one without the other…it just wasn't possible. "I won't lie to her," she whispered.

"I don't believe that will be necessary," Giles added as he looked up from a book.

"How would I ever have a conversation that something creature of the nightish wouldn't slip out?" Xander questioned.

"You'll manage," Buffy responded. Xander looked less convinced. "Besides we're well on our way to finding out how to give those memories back to her, right?"

"Based on your account with her fight with Glory, the damaged dark magick book and missing ingredients I found upstairs, her notes of the essence tracing spell she performed, and what we witnessed at the portal site, I am left with more questions than answers. I underestimated her power greatly," the gentleman admitted before facing Tara and placing his hand on hers upon the table. "And the resolve she has towards seeing you safe."

Tara eyes were kind at the comment but her heart and conscience were filled with guilt.

"Still I am left to wonder how she performed all three spells. The essence separation, the teleportation to the rafters, and whatever she did to close the portal. Any one of those spells is not only extremely difficult but dangerous. The council's books were useless but I'm contacting a coven in Bath to help me navigate the power dispersal. Perhaps we will resolve these questions soon. But for now, perhaps your suggestion of silence is best until we have answers."

Dawn hung on my every word when we had conversations. It didn't matter if I was relating a story I heard on the news or the ingredients on the back of a cereal box. She was full attention span girl.

She was on summer break from school, preparing to enter high school in the fall. She was quite smart and certainly nice enough, though it seems like she didn't have too many friends her own age as I hadn't seen any over during the day or dropping by for a sleepover at night. That was too bad for them. I liked her well enough.

We played chess and made funny, mostly inedible lunches, and watched cartoon marathons on TV. We broached the giant elephant of my memories occasionally, but she seemed scared that it would make me sad if I couldn't remember whatever the topic we were discussing. It was okay…I was learning things despite the avoidance.

Her mother's illness and death really broke her into pieces. Buffy was clearly her idol but, as idols often are, was nearly unreachable since she worked long night hours in security. I didn't blame Buffy necessarily. I'm sure dropping out of college to suddenly support your sister after their mother's death was quite difficult. It just made me wonder who was around to take care of this girl if Tara and I had lived on campus before all this mess. She was far too young to be as sad and alone as she seemed.

She adored Tara. But it seemed everyone did. I could understand. She certainly had a very gentle personality and a rather soft spoken, introspective nature about her. It seemed to quiet down the noise in my head. We spoke frequently but we also had the ability to sit in the same room and be still without feeling the rush to fill the space with words. It was comforting.

The same could not be said of Xander. I could hardly make eye contact before he got fidgety. He seemed a nervous sort of fellow. We were often timed in such a way that he was leaving the room as I was coming in and so on.

From what I gathered he was a construction worker and he lived with his girlfriend Anya who worked at the shop Giles owned.

Giles usually came around once a day, if only for a brief visit. He was a Brit if ever a Brit there was…he made tea with strange herbs and we talked of London, philosophy, and poetry. He was extremely well learned, a former librarian at the high school I attended. We drove by it once. The place was burned out, an empty husk of a property. They said it happened on our graduation. That must have been one hell of a ceremony. I digress. His presence screamed father figure in relation to the rest of the group. With the exception of Joyce, no one talked about their family, so I deduced there were reasons.

I still hadn't heard from my parents. It stung but what was I supposed to do about it? The contact numbers I found on my laptop were duds (Tara provided the password – taratongue – and blushed even as she said it). It wasn't an embarrassed blush though and my heart took off without me again.

I found an e-mail that was dated a week before the accident. Mother was in Africa researching, in an irony of ironies kind of way, the sociology of tribal parenting. My father was in Washington state working on compiling a seminar he did in physics into a book. Very impressive I'm sure, but I just couldn't strum up the proudness I should feel at their successes. Plus, this didn't feel like the first time they had left for extended periods of time and been unreachable. It seemed a serious head wound didn't bring them home to care for me either. That too, didn't feel like something new.

"What makes a person? Is it their actions…their thoughts? Needs? Desires? Or is it the people around them that mold the clay that would otherwise be unformed? And if it is friends and family that sculpt a person then wouldn't all of their actions, thoughts, needs, and desires take those people into account…"

"No, because humans are selfish creatures…not an altruistic species. Now we better get you back to Buffy's before Tara gets back from her make-up exams." Anya didn't wait for me to stand…she walked towards the exit of the burger joint. I followed in a rush and met her stride outside. It was a mild late afternoon and the setting sun was peaceful.

I liked Anya almost immediately - she spoke her mind and didn't feel the need to be self conscious about it. She didn't fuss or worry over me but I could tell she cared in some sort of abstract sense. Though, she did have the oddest perspectives.

"So are you getting 'get well soon' orgasms from Tara?" she questioned casually. "Because this one time I separated my shoulder and Xander was very attentive in relieving me."

"No, no…we're not…ya know," I faltered, unable to give an opinion on that idea. I changed topic. "So how long have you and Xander been a couple?"

"We met in high school when I," she paused thoughtfully. "When I moved here senior year. I left near graduation but came back some months later and found out how much I like his penis."

I had to laugh…and it felt good, to laugh, and not think or be frustrated or angry. This was one of the few times I felt good enough to go out since I left the hospital and I wasn't ready to go back yet. "Would you like to get a drink?" I fumbled through my cargo pants and found a twenty. "First few rounds are on me."

"Is this a seduction? Willow you're very pretty but Xander would really be hurt. Tara would too." She said this seriously without a trace of a joke or sarcasm. I laughed again.

"No, this is two friends having a fun night out…you know, to make up for all the blech-y ones lately." She turned and looked at my face, as if regarding me for the first time.

"Sure, lets go consume alcoholic beverages until we incapacitate our mental facilities."

"So where the hell would she take her, Xander?" Buffy growled just as Tara opened the door. A quick process of that statement wiped away the good mood she felt from passing all her makeup exams and finishing the semester. "W-where's Willow?"

"She wanted to go out to eat and I had to finish a job so Anya offered to take her," Xander pleaded his case. "I thought it was a quick trip to Burgerville and back."

"Willow's missing?" Tara asked and received a conformational nod from Dawn. She quickly sat cross-legged in front of the sofa and called upon Aradia to aid her with a tinkerbell to find her lover.

The little blue light flickered into existence and floated towards the door. "Stay here just in case," Buffy directed to Xander and Dawn. Tara opened the door to find Willow and Anya walking up the stairs. Well, walking wasn't the right word…teetering. Tara aided Willow on one side while Buffy practically carried in Anya due to sheer irritation. The blonde Wiccan had forgotten to call off her spell in the excitement and the blue dot of light continued to float and circle around the redhead.

"Bugs shure are big," Willow slurred as she slapped at the tinkerbell, hitting herself in the forehead and nearly tipping over backwards. Tara concluded the spell and clutched at the redhead's waist to give her firmer support. "Baby you're strong," was her giddy reply.

"Xander!" Anya chirped as Buffy brought her in the door after her two friends. The former vengeance demon ran towards him and gave an exuberant hug. "Oof," was the only noise he was able to make as the wind got knocked out of him.

"Well, I've gotta finish pa…you know that thing I do at night. Wait that sounded way dirtier than I meant." She pointed at her sister and said, "Dawn - go to bed soon." They traded eye rolls and she went out into the night.

"We better go too…I should get this little boozehound home," Xander said flippantly. He began to half-walk, half-drag Anya to the door when Willow slid out of Tara's arms and blocked their path.

"I had a blast, uh, and congratshulations beautiful bride." Willow stepped forward and planted a long, deep kiss onto the ex-demon's lips. Xander's jaw dropped comically, like a cash register effect on a cartoon.

"You're engaged?" Tara asked with visible surprise, which covered the slightly unexpected spike of jealousy. Dawn squealed and gave the carpenter a hug.

"We were waiting for the right time to tell everyone, like maybe when…" he motioned towards Willow and Tara confirmed her understanding with a nod.

"Hey big boy…don't get jealous on me," the redhead responded out of the blue. She abruptly moved in front of him and planted a peck on his cheek.

"We better leave…now!" Xander eeped. Slightly naughty images of his best friend and his fiancée were starting to flutter in his head.

Tara was glad to see them go…she didn't need to find out how many bases Willow wanted to round with people other than herself. She had never seen Willow this drunk before. Her girlfriend didn't abstain from alcohol but she certainly didn't like to chug so much that she lost total control. Plus there was this one time she remembered hearing about where Willow got drunk, went hyper, and spent the rest of the night paying penance to a wastebasket.

Willow strutted back over to Tara, wrapped her arms around her waist, and then moved them down to her rear for a firm massage. The blonde held back a moan, barely. Further response to the redhead's actions was instantly cooled when she heard Dawn uncomfortably mumble and head up to her room. Tara pulled away from assertive hands, knowing that she couldn't take advantage of her girlfriend in this state. "Up to bed, Will."

The former witch gave a limp salute and eagerly headed towards the bedroom. She stripped off her clothes and fell to the bed, passing into dreamland almost instantly. Tara came up a few minutes after and did finally moan in frustration at the sight of her gorgeous love lying sprawled on her belly and totally naked. She unfurled the covers and draped them over Willow carefully. She kissed her warmly on the top of the head and grabbed some blankets and a pillow for the couch. "Night sweetie," she sighed.

I saw the groan, written in smutty neon lighting, just before I opened my eyes and actually made the noise. I felt the smooth sheets under my skin. My naked skin. Just what the hell did I do last night?

Then it slowly came back…a fair amount of drinking, lots of dancing, some rather inappropriate smoochies, and one full monty before bedtime. Slightly embarrassing but not nearly the disaster that waking up confused and unclothed could've been.

I dressed in a robe and made my way to the bathroom. My face looked pale and sickly. So a little alcohol, prescription drugs, and traumatic brain injury don't mix. I'll put it in my lesson planner and call it learned.

I realized that there was something worse than waking up hungover…waking up alone. I headed downstairs in search of anything to get this rancid taste out of my mouth.

Tara was sleeping on the sofa, her broken hand hanging haphazardly off the armrest and the other tucked tightly under her head. Upon seeing her I winced, realizing that last night I practically made out with two of our friends while she was standing three feet from me. No wonder she didn't stay upstairs like she had been before. I tucked the blanket around her and went into the kitchen where I found Buffy making coffee.

"Hey Will," she said consolingly as she took in my appearance. "Coffee?"

"Water," I answered. She opened the refrigerator and retrieved the little blessing of a bottle. I gulped down half of it in the first minute. "Thanks."

"I'm gonna kill Anya…what the hell was she thinking?" Buffy jammed a piece of toast into her mouth and chewed angrily.

"I took her to the bar…it's really not her fault," I replied, wondering how my hangover could piss her off so much. Did I have a drinking problem and now I'm off the wagon?

"It's just not safe to walk home drunk at night," she warned. "Promise me you'll call a cab or one of us next time."

"Okay," I replied with a half shrug. Overprotective much? Sunnydale looked more suburby than ghetto but she would know better than I would. "What's on tap for today?"

"I've got to meet with Giles at the Magic Box to train." She trailed off like she had said too much. I challenged the statement. "Train for what?"

"Uh…kickboxing," the blonde responded, in a most unconvincing tone, might I add. She wasn't much of a liar and this wasn't the first time in the last four days she had felt the need to lie to me. Like when she told me my accident had come from falling off unstable supports at a construction site. Yet I didn't work there and no one could tell me exactly why I would go to some condemned worksite in the first place. At night no less. Suspicion was mounting over my supposed best friend and I didn't like the queasy feeling it left in my stomach. Or maybe that was the Tequila…I wasn't 100% sure.

All I was sure of was that I didn't feel particularly safe in a house with someone I couldn't trust.

Part 3: One Day, One Step

I felt like hell, but it seems less and less about frat-girl Willow and her loose interpretation of 'The Lost Weekend' last night and more about how much I must have hurt that lovely woman currently showering upstairs. She woke up shortly after Buffy left and offered to cook me breakfast or go out and get me something if my stomach couldn't handle waffles or pancakes. She didn't comment on what happened, other than to ask if I thought I was having any side effects from drinking while on those meds.

I was ashamed of my behavior…I'd be the first to admit it. How could I be so insensitive while she has pretty much been the queen mother of sensitivity to my needs?

And I know she's in pain…beyond her hand, I mean. That's a given since she reinjured it when I got hurt. Buffy told me she originally hurt it when some woman named Glory assaulted her in the park on campus. Tara can't say that name or even hear it without this haunted echo coming into her eyes.

She puts that pain aside for me though. And what did I do the first chance I got to pay her back?

Disappoint her terribly.

I decided that today I would make that up to her…it was the least I could do.

I asked her to take me for a tour around town, specifically to places she liked to go. She agreed amiably, but mentioned she had a meeting to go to in the afternoon. I decided to visit my parent's house when we parted.

My parents owned a house that was large, sparse, and antiseptic. The fridge was empty. As was the garbage can and the pantry. Clearly I hadn't been here much more than they had. I remembered that the lawn service came on Tuesdays. That was about it.

My room was lightly decorated…a empty fish tank sat on a bureau, some kitten stationary sat atop a white desk, and the bed was made up with a tan comforter. It seemed at any moment the sagebrush would drift by and join the silence.

I opened the denim shoulder bookbag I had toted with me and picked out the photo album I had found the other night. I had been putting off looking through its pages until I could be alone. I think I was worried…maybe afraid to never recognize its contents. I sighed and opened the hand-decorated album covered with blue stars shaped in weird arrangements.

I idly looked from cover to cover, stopping occasionally to stare hard at a few pictures. There were lots of Xander, Buffy, and me with longer hair. They were meticulously labeled and arranged by year…high school photos. There were a few of Giles sitting in what I supposed was my high school library and several group photos that included a short boy named Oz and a taller girl named Cordelia. There was a thickness on this page and I pulled out several hidden pictures. A prom photo of Oz and me, one where I'm sitting in his lap, and another where he is playing bass on a stage. So once upon a time, I dated a musician. So does that make me gay, bi, confused, or lucky?

The next set of pictures were labeled College - Year One. There were pictures of the campus, Buffy and me in front of a dorm, and a Christmas at Buffy's house. Her mom, Joyce, was in one of the photos with Dawn and I ruefully began to wonder how recently she died. Too young…too soon rung in my head.

The following section was filled with Tara pictures. She seemed camera shy, even going as far as holding her hand in front of her face in one of them. There was a stunning photo of her sleeping under a tree. Her hair slightly swept on her face as she snuggled into a jacket under her head. She looked so calm when she was totally unaware of the photographic presence…unlike the other ones. I liked this one a lot.

Then came Summer 2001 pics. There were peppy beach shots…some of Buffy with a guy named Riley, the first picture I had of Anya - with her arm around Xander, and the first shot of Tara and me together. She was sitting on her feet and I was kneeling behind her with my chin on her shoulder and my arms wrapped around her waist. I pulled that picture out and traced an outline around the blonde woman in the sand. Definitely gay…I'm most definitely gay…and lucky.

I closed the album at the last page, noting that it hadn't been updated recently, and tucked it back in the bag. The nicely organized photo show wasn't actually jarring anything upstairs. It was only reminding me that I had all these great memories stored just out of my reach. My head was all poundy…I had strained myself into a migraine. I checked the clock and decided to take a nap before going back to Buffy's place.

The floor of the room crumbled with tentacles rising from the cracks. Dead fish in an envelope. A building exploded, raining debris in every direction. A hairy creature bit the throat out of one of its own. A large green demon smashed lampposts and mailboxes. A small woman threw a larger man out a window. Floating knives. Blood everywhere.

My eyes opened in a flash and I did the only thing that was rational in that instant. I screamed. Again and again until I couldn't even recall what I was screaming about. Tears streamed down my face. As I wiped them with the back of my hand, I discovered that my nose was bleeding. My shirt was bloody and if this were my favorite one then it would be ruined. Somehow I knew Buffy could tell me how to get out the blood. Then the coughing began. I reached the bathroom just as it turned to vomiting. When my stomach was empty and my nose was less flowy, I returned to my bedroom and found a clean peasant top. I still couldn't remember what the hell I had dreamt.

I freshened up my hair and face until I thought I could pass for living. I retrieved the beach picture and stowed it in my back pocket. I looked at the empty fish tank and shivered.

"Enough!" Tara practically screamed. The Willow-based topics had strewn far from her intent and she had no way to steer them back. The arguing parties in the room quickly clammed up with shock, the blonde did not raise her voice much, if any. "W-we need to tell her…it's not safe for her to be in Sunnydale and not know the dangers."

"We can keep her safe," Buffy adamantly argued again. "I can keep her safe…I mean I'm the slayer."

"Here, here," Xander agreed, with less reluctance than he previously had. Willow seemed to be doing fine by his estimates…maybe Buffy was right. "Why do you want to remind her of all the bump in the night anyway?"

"Because she doesn't want one of them sucking on her neck. Are you people really that dim?" Anya asked disbelievingly.

"I believe you're in no position to talk, Anya, as you led her around town after dark while intoxicated," Giles interjected in a disappointed tone.

"First, I was not that drunk and I got her home fine. Second, what else was I supposed to do? Ignore her like Xander?" the ex-demon pointed. "Or lie to her like Buffy? She needs a friend people."

"So your definition of friend includes letting her stick her tongue down your throat? Because I don't get the frenchie action from my friends," Xander responded humorlessly. Giles lifted his eyebrows high in surprise.

"Grow up syphilis boy," Anya taunted back. "I said I wasn't drunk… but she was blowing in the wind. You're just mad because she pecked you on the cheek while she sucked serious face with me. You know she could teach you a few things about kissing…she did this swirly tongue thing on the roof of my mouth that would've gotten me all hot and bothered if I was into lesbians."

"Dear lord," Giles muttered as he took off his glasses and cleaned them intently. Very intently.

Xander stood gaping at his fiancée with a mixture of embarrassment and intense thought…trying to recall the tongue action in question from the brief clothes fluke of senior year. After a quick mental review, he realized that was a feature not included on high school Willow.

"I'm just doing what's best for Willow," Buffy finally said, mentally happy to change the subject.

"Who gave you the right to decide what's best for Willow? If anyone is qualified, it would be her lady," Spike said as he motioned at Tara. "If she says it's time to tell her about the big nasties, then we should get to it."

"For her first lesson she should learn how to kill vampires. Now where will we find a test subject on such short notice? Oh wait…I know," Xander asked sarcastically.

Tara ignored them and approached Buffy. "I'm going to tell her Buffy. I won't have our relationship have secrets. I tried that once…it wasn't good, you know, invisible demons." She gave a pleading little grin.

"Just give us three days. Plenty of time for Giles to talk to the English witch brigade and for the rest of us to be extra bookwormy."

"Three days…that's it." Tara put her arm on Buffy's. "You shouldn't feel guilty, you had no way of knowing this would happen."

"Yeah and that makes it all better…I'm going to get ready for patrol." It was still hours before sunset but the slayer couldn't be near all the people she had let down by not fulfilling her destiny.

Anya was tired of the fighting, fear, and sadness. She walked over to Xander and wrapped her arms around him and whispered, "I just want everybody to be better. These feelings hurt." She began to tear up and swatted at the droplet running down her cheek. "Stupid human emotions. I just want Willow to be okay and she called me her friend."

Dusk was settling over the sky in hues of purple and orange as I made my way up the sidewalk to the Buffy's house. I had a few false starts before I returned here. The first was a painful reminder of how dizziness and the rise and run of steps don't mix. My shoulder was now sporting an ugly bruise from the banister.

The second attempt was also called due to my continued light-headedness. It forced me into a two-hour recess on the couch. There were no nightmares or bloody noses when I woke up…I happily took the good fortune.

Navigating the front porch like nervous private in a minefield, I made my way into the house in what almost resembled control. Only then to be hit by a Mack truck of a teenager that flailed me helplessly into the back of the closed front door.

"Dawn?" I questioned even as her exuberant hug made me nauseous once more.

"We got pizza, extra cheese and pineapple goodness," she tittered merrily as she backed away and waited for a response. "It's your favorite."

"Dawn…" Buffy raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, so it's my favorite. Jeez…get all technical with the semantics. How many slices do you want?" she chirped.

I gave her a soft smile and patted her arm as I prepared my lie. "I ate just a little while ago. I think I'll go upstairs and rest." Dawn looked down disappointed but tried to hide it.

"How bout we get up good and early tomorrow morning and eat it for breakfast?" I offered, hoping that my stomach would forgive me. She nodded enthusiastically and I moved to bedroom with an apologetic wave to the pair of sisters.

Tara was in the bedroom, meditating in a thunderbolt posture. She was so stone still that I didn't register her until after I had removed my shirt and was staring at the large portion of battered skin on my middle. Through the mirror I saw her eyes open and appreciatively look at my chest before frowning at the large expanse of purple and blues. I glanced away and gave no indication that I was watching her watching me.

I moved into the walk-in closet and changed into a knee level nightshirt and shorts. Even though the clock mocked my early departure to sleep, I defied it by curling into a tight ball on the bed.

I heard Tara get up and, judging by the rustle, change out of her workout clothes and into something else. I heard her groan a little and blow out a puff of breath. I cracked open my eyes to see her wearing a silky deep blue pajama set with long pants and a button up shirt. She was struggling with the buttons trying to clasp them with one hand.

I stood and moved to face her. She had buttoned the top two but still had four to go. I carefully secured each one, trying not to notice how she quivered as my fingers incidentally brushed against the soft skin of her stomach.

I straightened the collar of the nice fabric. "I gave you this?"

She smiled and nodded. "Last Tara day."

"What's that?"

"We each pick one day a month to totally pamper the other one, sort of a mini-vacation from everything. On Willow day anything you say goes. All requests are granted…anything you want to do, we do. Gifts are optional but, you know, good. On Tara day…it's the same, except my choice."

"Sounds nice."

"I think so…it was you're idea, last Valentine's Day. You said the holiday was phony, forcing people to buy roses and cards because it was expected. You thought we should be good to each other any old time…as much as we could."

"Sensible reasoning," I surmised.

"I had to talk you down though. We tried to do it every week but, college and stuff makes it hectic to take two entire days a week off."

"I bet. Did you get all your incompletes cleared up?" She nodded. "Good," I yawned and nestled into the bed on my back.

Tara cut out the lights and slipped in beside me. She crossed over the imaginary line on the bed we had drawn out of propriety of my condition, leaned her back into the headboard, and stroked my hair with her good hand. I felt tingly. My nausea retreated as her gentle warmth permeated me through that touch.

"Mmm…that feels good," I cooed as I turned, bring my head closer to her so she was stroking the crown of my head.

"Yeah?" she said quietly, unsure. I took her hand into mine. She slid onto her back and snuggled into her side of the bed.

We laid together in the dark, our hands clasped, finding some small part of a connection we had lost.

Part 4: Who's Deceiving Whom

Tara seemed a little lighter the next morning. Maybe she got a full night of sleep. I don't think she has recently since I've heard her getting up in the wee hours too often.

Her smile was warm…she graced me with it within seconds of my awakening and I returned it gently. My growling stomach interrupted any further savoring.

She offered to make some omelets and, when I wholeheartedly agreed, she went into preparation mode.

I felt okay…relatively speaking. No yucky symptoms or nosebleeds. I expected to talk to the doctor about it this afternoon at my follow-up. I probably should have told Tara but I was tired of being the center of attention and didn't want to be any more of a burden than I already had been. I hated feeling weak and helpless…and I hated seeing how much it affected her. If I was feeling good, then she was happy. She had suffered long enough waiting for me to get well. So with full-fledged resolve, I was determined to be well.

When I rose, I realized she had been awake longer as she was showered and dressed (no buttons today). I did offer to help her with the sling, for which she was grateful.

Our touches were lighter as well. I was not as nervous and she was not as worried. When I held her shoulder to slip the straps of the sling around it, there was no hesitation or pull back. It felt very natural.

As she went to make breakfast delights, I spied my laptop sitting on top of one of Tara's boxes that she had yet to unpack. Those boxes had been driving me crazy…sitting there all unorganized and unpacked but I didn't want to sneak a peek in them so I stayed away. The power cord got stuck on the lip of the box and pulled it open. There was a red and black book labeled 'Witchcraft'. I thought it was my book, but couldn't remember if I had ever read it or not. It seemed to go with all the occultish things Tara and I had…i thought it was a shared hobby.

The laptop had been driving me crazy too…just in a different way. There was a great amount of encrypted data that I hadn't been able to crack. Why I would have such serious protection over that large areas of files was a mystery. Most of the nonencrypted stuff was papers and programs I had written for school. Tara had her own section of resources separate from mine but I only browsed it briefly. Nothing out of the normal.

A snapshot appeared in my mind, out of the blue, followed by an idea. I hadn't got used to these yet. I had one yesterday on the way to my parent's place. That one had been an image of a split level brick house. It had not been vivid. I couldn't tell you how many windows the house had or where the driveway was. The angle of it had been strange…elevated. It wasn't until I looked from the balcony outside my old bedroom and across the street that I realized that this is what I was visualizing.

The snapshot for today was of a woman…older, short brown hair with razor fine ends that seemed to haphazardly hang in various directions. She wore a tight earth toned top and a moderate black leather skirt. Her face had a graceful beauty and her eyes a sharp playfulness.

And suddenly I knew how the security was configured. It was clever and elegant…she had taught it to me…and then that was it. The picture postcard faded away.

I whispered my thanks as I enter the commands that expanded my access to a variety of files.

They were strange files - many were in Latin. Heh, I discovered I knew Latin. They contained chants? Spells? Lines and lines of paired and non-paired verse, complete with notes and improvements to the procedures. I couldn't understand what was with the cryptic. Sure, it was strange and not popular faire in society, but so? Perhaps to avoid personal embarrassment…the involvement indicated did seem to border on obsessive. Maybe I'm one of those weekend closet gamers that goes to other people's basements dressed as a sorceress to chant spells and drink Chek.

My reverie was cut short by a loud 'clang' from downstairs.

"I can't do this." Tara sounded shaken.

"I thought we agreed this was best. What has changed?"

I lingered by the doorway of the kitchen, listening to her hesitation.

"This is just plain wrong. Maybe she's not asking us for information about her past now but she might start. Or, I don't know if you realize this, she might start figuring things out on her own." Tara sounded increasingly agitated. But, as much I didn't like hearing it, my body refused to move and interrupt them.

"I locked up the weapons, magickal doodads, and spellbooks. We've been keeping her away from The Magic Box. And with the exception of the Anya adventure brought to us by the good makers of Jim Bean…we've kept her inside at night. We can continue it for just a little while longer. Until we find what we need to fix her." Buffy sounded very much like someone who rarely backs down.

"You've been lying to her…I won't stand for that." Tara accused.

"I'm the slayer. I have to be out at night so I had to make up something. There was no other way. It won't make any difference when she gets her memory back. She'll be our Willow again."

"Did you ever think what will happen if she doesn't get her memory back? Did you think what this will do to her? To your relationship with her? You're her best friend, Buffy." Tara pleaded.

"How can you even think that? You of all people should be trying to find a remedy…after what she did that night for us, for you."

"Don't question my love for her," Tara said, surprisingly stronger than she had been during the previous part of the argument.

"You know what…I'm pretty much not hungry anymore," Buffy shot back. The kitchen door slam hard, causing me to jump back a step.

I peeked into the kitchen and saw Tara slumped over the breakfast bar with her head in hand. I wanted to enter, but my astonishment, sadness, and fear sent me back up to the bedroom. I was in too many pieces and I didn't know where any of them belonged.

Dr. Jacob's office was bright and cheery, beguiling the anxious mood Willow was in as she sat in the molded red chairs and fidgeted. The neurologist had been recommended during her stay at the hospital but she had yet to meet him. She picked at her sweater and shifted her feet again.

"The doctor will see you now Ms. Rosenberg," a nurse called from the sign-in desk. She stood and felt more than saw Tara rise behind her.

She met blue eyes tentatively. "Um…can you wait for me here. I'm sure it won't be too long."

There was an almost imperceptible spark of hurt in Tara's eyes before she quickly nodded and answered, "Sure, anything you want."

Dr. Jacobs, a middle aged man with dark brown eyes and matching short hair, made his introduction as he picked up the preliminary file and motioned for the young woman to follow him.

"I have no problem with your friend joining you in the exam room," the mild mannered gentleman offered as he led her down a long, straight hall.

"It's okay."

"Oh, well…no problem. I know how much the support of friends and family can help at times like these though."

"Yeah," Willow murmured distantly as she was led in a room and sat upon an exam table.

"Are you having any problems?" he inquired as he did a standard check of her eyes.

"I've been dizzy and I've vomited some and had a bad nosebleed," she responded nervously.

"Have you been taking it easy? Eating the suggested diet and getting plenty of rest?"

"I was starting to feel better and then I…I went drinking one night. I'm not sure why I did. I only had two or three but I've been feeling pretty awful since."

The doctor sighed. "Alcohol is a big no-no with your medications. There can be all kinds of adverse complications, including the ones you mentioned. A couple of drinks can feel like an all-nighter in this instance. "

Willow nodded, feeling suitably chastised but slightly relieved.

The doctor patted her on the shoulder as a consoling gesture. "Behavior effects can occur in situations like yours just from the head trauma. Mix in the severe level of amnesia you have and there are bound to be obstacles. What you and your friends and family have to remember is that recovery will be long and challenging. One of the problems with this type of injury is that you look 'normal'. It can give off an image of health and fitness that belies the true depth of the injury. Be patient, rehabilitation will take time and I want to make sure you get the maximum amount of recovery in every sense of the word."

Willow gave a grin and felt a little more reassured.

"Why don't we run our tests for today and see how things are progressing. If I don't see any problems, then will go from there. Are you sure I can't go get you friend to sit with you while I prep things?"

"Please," she agreed after a pause. Tara sat with her quietly until she was taken to have a variety of machines image her brain and measure activity. The tests revealed no new or further problems, which was promising news. Willow left with less turmoil about her health…it had shifted to everything else going on behind her back.

Tara and I returned to find a message from the university requiring her to visit the administration to sign some papers. She apologized profusely but I was relieved to be alone for a few moments. The remainder of the morning and afternoon had sent my tummy into hyper gurgley mode.

I tried to pretend that I hadn't overheard that fight this morning and that I was a happy, healthy little puppy…and it was a tiring act. What was worse was that I saw the act mirrored in her eyes. She seemed just as troubled by it as I was.

Dawn was watching over me, but it wasn't too difficult to tell her I needed to rest and then duck out the door when she was preoccupied with something else.

I walked without meaning or purpose. My eyes leaked tears that my hands refused to wipe away. I wandered quietly and came upon the campus of the university; its quaintly architectured buildings glowed in the moonlight. I wasn't sure when it had grown dark.

I heard a mewl from the bushes of a building that was surrounded by barricades, orange cones, and construction netting. It looked like the wall had been blown off by a natural disaster. The contents of the interior had been cleared but it had the look of a giant dollhouse waiting for little Betsy to place in the plastic people and furniture.

A small black and white kitten emerged from the bushes and circled around my legs. I bent down to pet her head but stopped short to let her sniff my fingers.

"Hey there little kitty…where's your mommy?"

The kitten tentatively sniffed and nuzzled the side of her face into my palm. She was simply too cute for words. I check for a collar and tag, but she wore neither.

"Aww…poor baby…are you lost?" She licked the tip of my finger. "It's okay…I'm lost too." I picked her up and she curled into my sweater.

"You smell like blood."

"Gahh…what the hell kinda line is that, Spike?" I screeched, quickly turning around and causing the kitty to dig her claws into my arm. I absently wiped at my nose and did notice a couple drops of blood though.

I hadn't really spent much time with the artificial blonde. He never seemed to be around in the daytime, only poking his nose in at Buffy's house during the night. I gathered that Dawn liked him but Buffy fell more into the indifferent category. The unrequited crush weirdness that followed those two around seemed to be at least one source of her animosity.

"Red, we've been lookin' for you. You've caused quite a rouse at the nest."

"Yeah…well, I'm not going back there," I hissed. "They've been lying to me."

"Oh, bloody hell…is that what this is about?" I nodded. "Pig headed slayer stuck her foot in it. She would have been right to listen to your lady…she was against this whole charade."

"What's a slayer?" I questioned curiously. It was the second time today I heard her called that.

"Bollocks," Spike grumbled. "Buffy's a slayer…a regular superhero she is."

"Superhero?" I parroted. "So she protects people from what?"

"It's not really so much people, little girl," a voice called out from behind us. I turned to find an upright walking shark and three facially deformed guys. The shark pointed at the kitten.

"You have part of my debt…very good Spike." The minions came forward, presumably to try to pry the kitten from my arms. The bleach blonde stepped in their path, partially blocking me from them.

"Not part of what I owe," Spike argued. "You'll get your kittens soon…you know I'm good for it."

"You have a kitten loan?" I asked perplexed. Spike shrugged.

"Why don't we consider that little one a down payment," the shark said, making a movement with his hand that sent the three vampires to attack him.

When Spike's face shifted to resemble the other bumpy ones beating him, I ran as swiftly as my feet could carry me.

Tara didn't have time to say 'I told you so' as she left the Summers' house to start searching for her lover. Another Willow predicament was breaking the shaky ground where she was balancing her emotional footing. She needed to go to Willow.

And she just seemed to know where Willow was. It could be called it instinct or magick or fate or the bond between soulmates. Whatever it was it led her to the roof of the redhead's ex-dorm.

The redhead was sitting indian style against the side of one of the ledges. Miss Kitty Fantastico lay snugly in the pocket her baggy sweater made. The tracks of fresh tears were still visible on her face.

"Miss Kitty?" Tara whispered in amazement. "How did you find her? Where?"

"This is our cat?" I questioned with a raised eyebrow.

"Yes…ours," she replied with a grin.

"So…how did you find me?" Willow asked, changing direction.

"I'll always find you," the blonde responded reverently.

"I know." She meant it, Tara could tell by her tone.

"Willow, I'm sorry. I didn't want to keep things from you." The blonde's eyes welled up with tears that threatened to spill at any moment.

"But Buffy made you?" Tara shook her head. "She didn't force me."

"People keep things from each other…I, I …have to tell you…" the redhead started.


There was a pause. "Close your eyes."

"What?" Tara asked again, this time with a sniffle.

"Close your eyes."

When she did, Willow stood, moved to within an inch, and delicately moved her index finger over Tara's eyelid, removing both a stray eyelash and a few unreleased tears. She then repeated the light touch on the other eye.

"Keep those peepers closed." Willow turned her around and tilted her chin up into the night air from behind. The redhead sighed. "Don't apologize…" The redhead paused. "There's such an expanse of stars tonight and we should be a part of them. Look."

As she opened her eyes, Tara had to rein in her turbulent emotions again. Willow had positioned her in the exact location of the big pineapple…and didn't even know it.

She whispered from behind, "There's a way to get rid of secrets…tell them. I've got to tell you…"

They sat down together, under that world of stars, and Willow revealed the setbacks in her recovery. Tara also recounted a story…filled with demons, slayers, and two extraordinarily exceptional witches.

They banished the secrets…making them no more.

Part 5: Revealed, Renewed, and Realized

A witch. Everything pointed to it, I guess, but it was still pretty unbelievable.

The only thing more unbelievable would be living in a town that sits upon a gateway to hell that is protected by one chosen girl in the world (except there are two because she died once) who has super strength and healing powers. Oh, wait…apparently that's true as well.

Now, I knew there were secrets. I just didn't expect them to be world altering, change everything you thought you understood kind of ones. Informational and conceptual overload came at no additional charge with each story.

What a cast of characters we made. Buffy the superhero, Dawn the key, Giles the watcher, Spike the vampire, Anya the 1200-year-old ex-vengeance demon, and Tara and I were the witches. Xander was just Xander…not being larger then life must be hard for him with this group.

Glory. The name made me seethe. This woman…no monstrosity, stole Tara's sanity. I didn't understand exactly what that meant other than it made her like a vegetable in an otherwise normally functioning body. She didn't elaborate beyond that, probably because the wound was too fresh. This hellgod tried to kill all of us…set to drain Dawn's blood dry. I was glad to hear that this faceless horror was dead…glad and not even a tiny bit remorseful.

She told me my part that night…now I was a superhero. I saved her…I saved the world – big actions for such small shoulders. I don't feel very strong or very brave anymore…I wonder where that woman is?

I began to get tired and cold a couple of hours into our impromptu chatting session. Miss Kitty, as I now knew her, had snuggled into a quiet nap earlier. I thought she had a good idea…I wanted to curl into some warm and fluffy bedding myself.

"Can we…" I yawned heavily, "maybe call it a night?" Tara nodded and stood, taking the sleepy kitty from my hands so I could follow her lead. Her little furry head lifted upwards, perturbed at the change in positioning.

"I don't want to go to Buffy's." The statement was out of mouth before I thought about restraining it. "I mean I can't stay there tonight…I just need some space away. Not from you but…can we go somewhere else?" I added in a rush. "My parent's house, maybe?"

The beginnings of a frown creased her forehead. There was a line in the dirt, between Buffy and I, and she didn't want to choose sides. I felt bad for making her but I didn't draw this line and I wasn't sure how to erase it away. Or if I even wanted to.

She took my hand, ready to follow where I led. We stopped at a convenience store and picked up some kibble for Miss Kitty. Arriving at my very sanitary childhood home, I knew that we didn't belong here but it seemed the path of less animosity for the night.

Tara placed a call to Buffy to say we were okay and staying here while I showered. I stayed under the spray for a long time, until it went lukewarm, assessing everything.

I don't know if I can be that Willow…the witch, the hero. I don't want to save the world…I only want to rediscover it…find some joy in it. What happens if I can't be the person I was?

Anya arrived on the doorstep early the next morning, toting drinks, food, and an amazingly bright demeanor.

"Greetings lesbians. I've brought disgustingly healthy herbal smoothies for your breakfast pleasure. Oh, and colon cleansing carrot and bran muffins." She shook the bag. "These are what you wanted, Tara?"

The blonde nodded and invited her in…Willow recognized that this was a setup.

Willow peered at Anya's face through bleary eyes, sniffing the air and smelling the waif of steaming mocha goodness in the cup the bottle blonde was sipping. She began bemoaning the fact that she gave away her dietary rights (and therefore caffeine!) when she agreed to eat healthier under her breath. Tara raised a knowing eyebrow.

"Yum," the redhead murmured as she sulkingly sat at the breakfast bar and took the lid off the smoothie cup. She gave it a sniff, strawberry, and then a taste. It actually wasn't that bad…but it was no mocha. She pinched at the muffin; it was moist and more flavorful than she thought. Especially considering it came from a bag that said 'Sunnydale Organic Food Shop', which sounded like a place they wouldn't protect if demons ran amok in town and began setting businesses on fire. She pushed out her lip in a pout and looked forlornly at Anya's cup once more.

"Absolutely not," Tara said as she crossed her arms over her chest.

"When did she get so butch?" Anya murmured, mostly to herself, as she pulled out a chocolate doughnut from a different bag, one with the logo of a jolly fat ethnic baker. Now that looked like a place to protect with life and limb, Willow thought with a sigh. The redhead frowned at the pastry and realized the error of letting Tara orchestrate her recovery plan. Tara had read through the doctor suggestions last night and now she was actually going to have to eat healthy. No exceptions.

This really was a hellmouth wasn't it?

A week passed and I spent most of my time in limited action, exercise came in the form of morning walks in the park with Tara. We walked arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, and talked of trivial things…life did not press on us so hard when we spent it within the confines of each other.

Despite my initial protests, Tara's TLC plan was actually working. The rest and well-rounded meals (there were desserts!…just no mochas) did probably help me feel better. There had been no icky nosebleeds or dizziness in the interim, a fact that I was more than happy to let her take credit for.

Xander had moved our stuff into my parent's once we decided not to immediately move back into Buffy's and I spent a little time reconnecting with him.

He knew more about younger me than anyone, since he was the only one actually around at that time. We had played doctor, except it had been me with a Gray's Anatomy book giving him diseases and finding cures, not the more common naughty version of that game. His stories were like the coloring book version of my memories – the pictures seemed to belong to me but someone else had colored in all the details. I was pleased that the tide had turned us toward each other, he was a really nice guy even if he was a bit too interested in how Tara and I were doing.

Anya stopped over frequently too…particularly when I offered to help her look through bridal books for wedding ideas. I was really happy I talked her out of the traditional blood larvae and burlap.

When Giles finally called early one day to discuss attuning a demon locator spell and Tara offered to help him research, I knew that we would have to face that part of our lives more directly soon. I didn't want her in danger…I don't how I would get through this is she got hurt again. Or worse.

And I still hadn't talked to Buffy…Tara had become my buffer in all matters related to the slayer.

So, that afternoon while Tara was sifting through boxes of books (I told her to stay upstairs), I called Xander and got him to bring over a few grocery bags worth of surprises.

Luckily, I wasn't as bad of a chef as I thought I might be. Takeout seemed to be a favorite of mine, or I judged to be, considering when I walked through downtown the man at the China Boat Express waived to me like I was his daughter.

Still the meal was simple – spaghetti, garlic bread, salad, sorbet, and grape juice, since wine was on the restricted list. I found good china in a hutch in the dining room and served up everything like it was a holiday. I lit some candles and found some low-key jazz among the cds in the living room. It looked downright cozy…intimate even. My stomach began to twist and turn…I meant this more as a 'thank you' rather than a…my heart found the beat of a scared little samba.

"Can I come down yet? I'm finished." Tara asked from the stairwell.

"Yeah," I squeaked, startled by the pitch of my own voice.

Her eyes lit up when she entered the dining room, the candlelight casting warm shadows on her face. "Oh, Willow…this is wonderful," she said with such appreciation that it astounded me.

Then, I knew that I was worrying too much. She would take what I could give her…even if she deserved so much more.

I sat down much more relaxed and we had the easiest flowing conversation imaginable. Any doubts I had of what her expectation of me might be after this rather unintentionally romantic meal were wiped away instantly. Everytime I think I begin to understand the limits of this woman, she resets the boundaries.

"You just have…" I started, motioning at her cheek. Spaghetti is in the top five messiest foods no matter how carefully you eat.

"What?" she asked.

I mustered up all the courage I could.

I moved towards her, moving to within centimeters of her lips. I brushed the errant sauce away.

"Willow?" Tara processed the new position with some confusion and a gulp.

She tried to pull away, but I prevented it by kissing her hard, smooshing our lips together. I didn't think this was terribly romantic and not how I would have planned. I should have planned…but when I pulled back and saw Tara's goofy grin, I didn't worry too much about it anymore. I think I had a matching grin of my own plastered on my face.

"Did you like dinner?" I asked, a smug delighted tone creeping into my voice.

"Very much," she replied, still residing in some dazed suburb of contentville.

That night, tranquility was broken by small helpless noises.

Tara's breath was fast and uneven, her voice keened and whimpered. She was having a nightmare…I now knew what woke her at night, but that didn't cure it.

"Noooooo," she pleaded as I squeezed her arm, trying to snatch her away from the terror holding her down.

She woke with a start and buried her face into my shoulder. I gathered her into my arms and murmured, "Baby it's okay." She desperately shifted closer and I held her harder, whispering those three words like a mantra. After about ten times or so I think my words had some effect because her breathing slowed. I lifted her head and looked deep into those eyes…the torment so horribly striking against the loveliness of her blue irises.

I lightly kissed her forehead, her nose, and her cheeks. When I met her warm, soft lips, I felt her respond and press back with a sudden vigor. Her tongue slashed at my lips, parting them with ease and she entered my mouth with a conquering force. I went slackjawed in surprise.

She drowned me with her passion…so bottled up it had been that it burst forth in a rush. She pushed me flat on my back against the bed and delved deeper in to my mouth, no need for exploration because she knew the topography. I moaned as I felt her good hand tangle through my hair and land at the nape of my neck.

I realized that there was more than passion locked behind her actions. I felt her panic…her fear. I lifted her face from mine once more to look at her…what I saw…well, if I had anything to with it, no one would ever hurt this woman again.

"Tara?" I asked as my eyes stung.

Confusion seemed to wash over her and then she whispered, "Am I really here?" Her words pierced through my heart.

"You're here…you're safe. She's gone and she's not coming back. She's gone." I said anything I thought might bring her comfort. At that moment I would have done anything to bring her comfort. I think she realized it too because she abruptly sat up and huddled to the other side of the bed.

"I'm s-so sorry," she pleaded, on the verge of a panic not induced by that monster. "I, I n-never would have…" taken advantage of you like that, her tears spoke as they slid down her face.

"I know, Tara, I know," I replied but she had already grabbed her pillow and was halfway to leaving the room, most likely to bed on the couch. "Don't go."

She turned around with a question on her face.

"Don't go…because you need me tonight and because I need you too. I…" love you, I suddenly thought but could not voice. Not this way…when it would seem forced and weighted. "We're fine."

Tara approached tentatively and brushed the back of her hand against my cheek tenderly, her skin voicing the exact same thing floating in my mind. Love.

"Come here," I urged and she crawled back into bed. She rested her head on my shoulder and I held her as she fell back into slumber. There were no more nightmares…just one woman with an endless depth of love for me gaining peace in my arms.

I watched over her and later kissed away the twitches of a bad dream on her brow, realizing that our love went both ways. And the more I saw of it, the more I wanted all of it back.

Part 6: Of Fantasies, Fears, and Friends

It was an endless hall of filing cabinets, lined up in a row for as far as the eye could see. Each metal container had a small beige parchment card that listed its content in a flowing calligraphic script. I walked along the parquet floors with only the soft whirling of a far away fan making any sound. I stopped at the cabinet marked 'Tara' and pulled at the small metal handle. It was locked, as were the two other drawers. The harder I pulled, the less it gave. My hands turned red and then white. Cuts developed as the handle sliced my palms. Still they would not budge…but I would not stop. I stubbornly continued my efforts.

A voice called out to me.

"Some things aren't yours anymore."

"Who are you to decide what's mine and what I can't have?" I questioned to the air around me.

No one answered.

My eyes flickered open casually. Tara's warm weight rested on top of my side, as she had every night this week. I sighed and gazed at the ceiling. We had moved to a new stage of progression. We kissed lightly now, sweetly. I held and was held. Yet I still hadn't said what I had thought that night.

Those three words, I love you, they were important. What I thought I felt…I had to be sure it was real and I was finding it hard to be confident in me. Saying those words could be easy. They would likely fold the rest of the barriers Tara had put up to keep herself from going too far…from making me uncomfortable. That's why it was so serious. This wasn't something to dangle between us and then snatch away when I finally understood. Who I am. What I'm feeling. What I'm meant to do…meant to be.

I didn't feel any closer to knowing those things. Memories had been fewer, farther between, and just as meaningless as ever. Remembering that I once ate two grapes when I was little at a grocery store and then had been too scared to go back into that store was cute and neurotic but not exactly what I needed.

What I needed. In these weeks, Tara and I had created a place where the world couldn't touch us. There were no expectations, no pressures, and no questions. There was just this spot where only two people existed. It was simple, delicate, and wistfully pleasant.

I wanted it to stay that way permanently but I knew I would have to face the real world again. There were plans to be planned, decisions to be decided upon. Practicalities to be practical about.

It was time to let go of the fantasy.

"Welcome to my establishment, please spend…oh, it's you Willow," Anya greeted as she looked up from her ledger behind the counter.

"So this is your shop?"

"Yes, I am the number one provider of mystical goods in Sunnydale. We also hold the record of longest continuous living ownership."

"Congratulations?" I ventured. "So there's a big turnover in this industry?"

"Well, usually when a demon wants to get a special artifact to open the Hellmouth or a vampire wants a little burba weed for their blood they don't pay." The blonde dragged her thumb across her throat and made an 'ack' noise.

"Oh!" I said as I clued in. That wasn't exactly the most inspiring message to help me ask my next question.

"Do you remember what you said last week?"

"You think I should go with the bridesmaid dresses made from dried and tanned Vargyl entrails? Those did look nice…and they're very sacred."

"Um, no. I meant are you still thinking of hiring someone to work in the shop part-time?" She had mentioned this last week, amongst the talk of entrails, when she was complaining how little Giles works in the shop these days. It forced her to open a little later and do most of the day-to-day stuff on her own.

"Yes, Giles, my sub-owner, said more help would be useful."

Dawn had told me that Giles owned the shop and Anya just had an overinflated sense of her title…but now didn't seem to be the time to argue that.

"Then I'd like to apply."

"There would be no benefits. Your hospital…"

"I'm covered under my parents' insurance," I cut her off abruptly. I pulled out a piece of paper, where I had systematically detailed my finances in different colored fonts.

"The living expenses stipend from my scholarship has been reduced for next year and I was thinking of not taking an overpriced dorm and food plan. I think I might be able to swing an apartment if I get a job and make a little dinero."

She reviewed my figures making nods here and there. "These don't include any of Tara's finances or scholarships," she assessed.

"I know…I just wanted to make sure I could do this on my own in case she didn't want to move in with me."

"Doesn't want to move in with you? Has something happened?" She gestured at my head. "I mean something else." I shook my head.

"Then what alterna world are you living in…and, hey, this time I didn't cause it," she realized with glee. "You do know that late night orgasm visits will be much more dangerous if she has to walk across town instead of up a flight of stairs to get to your love nest."

She caught my reserved facial gesture and went directly to the questions. "You still haven't had sex? You two have been locked up in that empty house for over two weeks. How much more of an opportunity do you need?"

"It's not about opportunity. Everything is complicated. I know so little about her…she tells me more everyday and I'm trying to learn through observation but it feels like I'm so far behind the curve that I'll never catch up." My voice rose towards the end and I knew I was about ten seconds from falling apart.

"And here I am, this person that she knows so well. Except I'm not…and will she want this broken thing if it can't be fixed? I'm not sure I can ever be what she needs and I can't lead her on and pretend otherwise either." I began to wheeze a little, trying to hold back my fear and frustration.

"You need a hug, right? I've spent many hours watching talk show therapy. Either you need a hug or we need to show our breasts and get into a fight. Of course, there are no muscled security men to hold us back here."

I laughed at the surreal absurdity as I wiped a small amount of wetness from my eyes. "A hug would be good." The blonde consolingly patted me on the back as we briefly embraced. Somehow, I did feel a little better. This was a strange form of therapy.

The bell over the door jangled.

"Willow?" Tara's voice called from the doorway.

"You talk to Tara and Giles…if everyone goes along with this then the job is yours," she whispered as she began to let go. "But you better be ready to be trained…I can't wait for you to remember what all this stuff does or where it goes."

I snickered and shook my head.

"Hello Tara, we're not engaged in lesbian activities," she candidly said as she pulled away. This wasn't the first time I wondered if she didn't use her unique methods of talking as a diversionary tactic.

"That's good to know," she said with an innocent tone, hinting only lightly at sarcasm. I grinned at the understatement and approached.


"Everything okay?" she asked as she took my hand into both of hers.

"Just me being a little irrational." I think. "Can we talk tonight over dinner?"

"Always. My turn to cook?" I nodded.

"See you then," I said and then softly pecked her lips.

I walked down the business section of town, in deep thought as I browsed a few antique stores and clothing boutiques. It was a social therapy of a different kind, even if I couldn't actually buy any of the pretty things. I came upon the window of Mister Donut, its cheery sign indicating that goods were made fresh daily. A large display of oven edible products sat in a glass display by the door. I put my hand on the doorknob, only to remove it and sigh the pitiful sigh of the sugar high deprived.

"You're so whipped," I muttered, taking one last deep breath of sweet confectionery goodness and continuing on to the park.

It was only then did I realize that two things were very much of the bad. 1.) The sun had set about five minutes ago. 2.) Tara and I had a dinner date that started about thirty minutes ago.

"Oh, poopy," I mumbled, trying to decide which was worse. When a bumpy headed vampire jumped from behind the park restroom building I got my answer.

"Yum, redheads are so fiesty," the undead being stated as he licked his lips.

"This season I think the raven haired are riper," I replied, internally rolling my eyes. Less talking, more running.

I turned and sprinted towards Main Street, figuring it wouldn't follow me into a really big crowd…if I could make it that far.

Apparently vampires run really fast and I was not a track star in high school. Within fifty meters, he caught me from behind and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, pushing my hair aside. I felt a cold chill vibrate up my spine as if I was sensing my impending death despite my struggles to get free.

Suddenly his hard clenched hands were gone as I was thrashing against empty air. When I jumped around, I found a small blonde lowering an intensely held chunk of wood and scanning me for injuries.


"I just wanted to keep you safe," she said, not waiting for me to speak. We both knew that those words went beyond the little pile of dust currently at her feet.

"Safe from what? From you?"

The slayer looked down, leaving that bite unanswered.

"Did you coerce Tara or me into this life? Did we do things that we didn't want to do?"

"Well, no but…"

"So we helped with our own freewill?"


"You took away that freewill when you hid this world from me. I know it's different. I know I'm not as good now, a weak link, but…"

"No, Willow, it's nothing like that." I held up a hand.

"Let me finish, I've been thinking about this for a while. I know I'm not capable to be that person now…or yet, I'm not sure which. But I should have been given the opportunity to decide. I still want that opportunity. Let me see your world. Let me decide if I can live in it, okay?"

Buffy rushed over and hugged me hard, spinning us in a circle. "I'm so sorry."

"Oooff, Buffy, freshly healed ribs," I squeaked.

"Oops," the blonde said as she quickly set me back down.

"Oh…I've gotta get home. I'm late for dinner and Tara's gonna kill me. Well, not kill me like that thing wanted to but she'll be seriously pissed. Well, not seriously pissed but she'll probably frown and give me that look, the one that says she was all worried and stuff." I took a breath and began speed walking.

"Whoa, how 'bout a slayer bodyguard for the trip? You can even blame the lateitude on me." She said as she easily matched my quickened stride and then slowed me down.

"You'd do that for me?" I asked as I met her glance.

"Sure, what are friends for?"

"That's what I'm starting to figure out," I said quietly as I looked back to see that the pile of ash had blown away, leaving no trace.

Part 7: The Best Laid Plans

Tara felt her stomach twist but it had little to do with hunger. Nerves. Stress. Fear. Not hunger. She stared dumbly at the map on the counter, watching a bright golden dot move side by side with the green dot she had cast to find. Buffy was bringing Willow home. There was no catastrophe. Willow was late, out after dark, and her first impulse had been to cast to find her…Tara's brow creased as she rubbed her temples.

Tara, you know better than to use magic like that, she could hear her mama admonish.

I know mama, I know. It was just another item on a long list of things she was screwing up, her relationship with Willow sitting firmly in the number one position.

She didn't know how to act around Willow…what to say…what not to say…how to help. Before…she would have just understood what Willow needed. She would have been able to say anything, do even the most embarrassing things without worry, because she knew the redhead loved her not despite her peculiarities but because of them. Even her strange sense of humor, archaic cultural references, and almost total lack of ability to walk through doorways when she first woke up without bumping into the frame. They were parts of the whole and Willow accepted and appreciated her with such ardor that it literally took her breath away at times. But it all changed when Glory placed her hand upon Tara's life, wrecking her world twice – first taking away her mind and then nearly taking away her everything.

Tara sometimes wondered if she came back wrong. She still felt so lost, as if she was missing important pieces. The ones that knew how to heal Willow…how to make her feel better, safe.

She didn't recognize this person that looked like herself but stepped back from Willow instead of stepping closer. It only reminded her of a lanky teenager who stuttered and could blend into the background of any situation.

She didn't want to be this person again.

This person who hesitated before snuggling close to Willow at night, afraid her eyes were pleading for something that was no longer hers. This person who couldn't tell Willow about their most intimate moments or the crazy, foolish things they did for one another for no reason, other than to cause a laugh. This person who was failing to give Willow the life she so richly deserves.

Tonight was supposed to be different. She would put the hesitation aside and show Willow what she meant to the blonde. She fretted as she checked to make sure the chicken was still warm, sampling the sauce with her finger. It wasn't about seduction, just a need to show the full extent of her feelings. There was a difference between respecting Willow's condition and hiding her feelings away. Tara was doing too much of both. It belittled their relationship and was a discourtesy to Willow's intelligence. Tara would show her the full truth and let Willow decide if she could handle that. Then they could move forward and make decisions together.

Maybe she was being selfish, but the reins she had placed over her heart felt like they were suffocating the spirit of their relationship. She could not stand back and wait for Willow to discover that what they had was strong, real, intense, and felt like forever.

Had…she hated that word. It was in the past tense, as if it was finished. She tried not to think that way - it led her to a place that scorched beyond mere words. They were not close to that. She knew Willow felt something for her, just exactly what was the mystery.

Between Tara's standoffish wall of propriety and Willow's hot and cold swings it was hard to decipher anything. Sometimes Willow's eyes had that spark of desire that once set them both ablaze. Other times Willow was indifferent. Tara knew that she couldn't blame her…virtually everything was overwhelming in her condition. It was hard to pretend that it didn't hurt when Willow closed in on herself though. All the blonde wanted to do was take her in her arms and tell her everything would be better.

The other matter was that perhaps Willow was sensing the hesitancy in Tara and therein feeling confused. Added confusion was the last thing the redhead needed right now.

Tara sighed, taking a seat at the dining room table. Figuring out Willow and her actions took degrees that she didn't have yet. She would have to earn them again.

But not tonight. This was just another example of how out of synch they were.

Tara watched the tapered candlestick melt slowly towards the linen of the table, the wax collecting in a dish placed beneath the holder. The room glowed with a warm hue. She stood and smoothed out the silk burgundy dress with the spaghetti straps that she had bought for a Christmas party last year. She smiled as she remembered the leer that Willow had given her the first time she saw it. Carnal seemed too mild a descriptor. She had spent most of that party with a very worked up redhead sneakily running her hands all over her while making pleasantries with the gang. That only led to two worked up people and a very hasty exit from the festivities.

She moved upstairs to let down her hair and change into something more casual. Since Buffy was coming over with Willow, it was a good sign that they had started to patch things up. That was good news. She shucked off the dress, hanging it on the door and trading it for a long sleeved t-shirt and a pair of cargoes. Hurriedly, she cleaned up the formal dining room table, putting away the fine china and setting the informal kitchen table with less fancy ware.

The door opened a couple of minutes later, two familiar laughs permeating the quiet of the house.

"Hey you," Tara said, feeling Willow's laughter lift a little of the weight settled on her mind. She entered the foyer and found them removing their shoes. "You're late." She stepped forward and kissed the redhead on the cheek. "Oh, hey Buffy."

"All my fault," Buffy said, sharing a glance of conspiracy with the redhead. Tara lifted an eyebrow that they both missed. "Hey Tara."

They walked passed the darkened dining room and Buffy picked up the faint trace of vanilla and blown out candle wicks. As they entered the kitchen, she sniffed the most divine smells of food wafting from pots and pans keeping warm over the stove. Even as her stomach growled in expectation, the slayer suddenly felt like an intruder.

Tara excused herself and the slayer heard her footsteps travel up the steps. Buffy did likewise and pretended to head toward the bathroom but made an abrupt turn and creeped towards Willow's bedroom instead. From the crack of the open door, she saw Tara squeeze a very fancy dress into the back of the closet.

"Fancy dinner for two…skimpy outfit. I think I ruined your plans by showing up," Buffy said as she stuck her head inside the room.

Tara turned around with a start, pulling her arm back quickly and hitting her elbow on the closet door. "Ouch," she hissed under her breath.

"Guess I'm really in the wrong town to sneak up on people." Buffy said lightly as she entered the room and sat at the foot of the bed.

"No…no big plans…it's fine," Tara said with a shrug.

"Don't downplay yourself…I tasted the sauce, its very yummy. Dawn sorta craves that level of culinary talent but apparently the Colonel I buy from doesn't make chicken like that."

Tara suspected that was the closest Buffy was going to come to saying she missed them.

"I miss cooking for more."

"I could scoot out of here and you can go woo her tonight," Buffy stood, fidgeting with her blonde ponytail.

"No, I'm glad you're here. I want you to spend time with her." Tara looked up sheepishly and amended. "Us. Spend time with us."

"I know," Buffy said as she scuffed her boots lightly on the floor. "This must be multiple sorry night for me. Tara, I'm sorry about the fight. Fights. You were right, you know, she seems happier now.

"I'm not so sure," Tara said so softly that only a slayer with super hearing would notice.

Buffy couldn't help but think the blonde was being too hard on herself. "Are you kidding? She talked about you while grinning the whole way home. She's smitten. A regular smitten kitten."

"I'm making one mistake after the other," Tara cut in.

"Not any bigger than mine. I drove her right out of my house, nearly out of my life. And who did she run to? Who did she trust to keep her safe? I'll give you a hint…it's the same person she would have went to before she got hurt."

Buffy walked over to Tara and put a hand on her shoulder. "I don't know what is wrong but I do know that if any two people can work it out then it would be you two."

Tara met Buffy's sincere posture with a mix of appreciation and surprise. It was really the first time that the slayer had ever acknowledged their relationship in such a way. The blonde witch knew that Buffy accepted her and they were friendly, but she had never been sure she approved the pairing that was collectively called 'them'.

Tara wondered what made her say it now. Perhaps Willow's departure from the slayer's life had made an impact in several aspects.

"Stay for dinner. We want you here," Tara suggested this time, more firmly. When the blonde superhero nodded, they both returned to the kitchen to find Willow sampling everything impatiently.

They fixed up three equal plates and sat down at the table, Willow and Buffy immediately digging into their portions wholeheartedly.

Tara reached over to the seat beside her and squeezed the redhead's small hand, receiving a small grin in between bites.

Her big plans were not in vain after all. It didn't take a grand gesture to show how much she really cared. A thousand tiny ones would do. She ran her hand over her knuckles and squeezed once more. She just had to let herself do them.

Part 8: Mystical Medicine

I knocked on the door, waiting patiently for Giles to answer, noting the smell of summer herbs growing in the courtyard garden. Basil, Rosemary, and Sage were easy to identify among the greenery. Tara would know the other ones…she seemed to be the more nature minded of the two of us.

After knocking and waiting again, I tried the handle and the door creaked open. I had expected his house to be well…cleaner for one thing. For a prim and proper British guy, he lived like a twenty-year-old frat boy. Chinese cartons sat haphazardly on the coffee table with chopsticks still poking out the top of containers. Dishes were scattered across the dining table and kitchen counters. Two empty bottles of brandy sat on the desktop next to a tremendous stack of books that rose from floor to desk level. Also perched along the wood workspace was the sleeping head of the watcher.

"Giles?" I called out loudly and then shut the door semi loudly. I didn't want to venture too much into his personal space because, frankly, his personal space was a little rank.

Awareness came to his eyes as he popped his head up and absently wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. "Hello, Willow…is there something you need?" He stood and closed a red robe, covering up an old t-shirt and boxers.

"Did Merry Maid go on strike or something cause it looks like cleaning day came and went a few times around?"

He glanced around, almost as if seeing the mess for the first time. He rubbed a few days worth of stubble on his cheeks and sighed. "Pardon the clutter…the house is need of a quick pickup."

I smirked at the understatement as I shuffled fully into the room, avoiding a shoe in the center of the walkway. "Um, Anya wants to hire me in the shop but I need your approval."

"It must be flourishing if she is willing to part with money for additional help," he mumbled, mostly to himself. To me he said, "I've been remiss in overseeing the ledgers lately but if we need help then you're hired."

"Thanks…so umm what are you working on?" I asked as I looked at the yellow legal pad sitting on the desktop. My name was written prominently on the first line, giving me an answer to my own question. Has he been researching my accident all this time? I glanced around at the state of disrepair. I didn't know whether to be thankful or worried or awed at this man that, without the Hellmouth, I probably wouldn't know. "Me?" I sort of questioningly squeaked.

"Of course you. I've had some of the most respected covens in the world counseling me on this matter." It was a statement of fact, sounding like nothing more or less. The look in his haggard eyes showed a concern he was dismissing with words.

"Most I have consulted are baffled. They believe for you to be alive after all that has occurred must be a miracle or indicate a prophecy. There doesn't, however, seem to be any occurrence or recorded prophecy that I can find. My contacts seem to be without explanation for the power shown that night. It was felt that night, your power…seers who monitor these things felt the ripple."

"Um, wow? Never would have called myself ripply…I mean," I lifted an arm and flexed a small bicep.

He hesitated, rubbing his face once more. "I have been given a ritual that can test your mystical abilities. If you're willing, I would like to attempt it at a time of your choosing. I hoped to bring this up at our meeting tonight. Buffy has informed me that you and Tara will be attending."

"The Scooby shindig?" He winced at the phrasing. "We'll be there…can I think about it until then?" He nodded.

"Well, I'll leave you to the cleaning," I said as I departed.

Tara's reaction was not what I expected when I went to her hours later. She was reclined on the sofa, reading in the cool that air conditioning provides on a hot California summer day.


"I think it's like a witchy placement tests. Giles'll give us the what for tonight." I watched her countenance falter. "I thought this would be a woo-hoo thing. We're all 'yay' magick, right?"

The corner of her mouth rose with a twitch. "Yes, much of the 'yay'," she replied.

"But?" I ventured, dropping down next to her on the cloth cushions as she sat up to accommodate me.

She took what looked like a calming breath and slowly met my eyes. "The last time we spoke, you know before…" Before our dueling nightmares, her expression stated. She stopped, reaching for my hands, with a strong need to find them.

"You know you can tell me anything," I said gently, realizing once again how acutely she felt the burden of being the only one with a window to our life together.

"We argued about magick…your power. It degenerated into a nonsense of angry words after that."

"I take it we didn't fight much?" I asked unnecessarily. I could just tell that wasn't the case.

"Next to never. It happened even less than Anya telling a story which doesn't end in evisceration or orgasms."

"Wow, that really is pretty much never." We shared a smile. I leaned over and rested my head on her shoulder. She snuggled a little closer. Somehow, in the last week, we had shifted to a more comfortable level, where touching each other was done with less thought and calculation. To me, it felt like an instinctive reaction for when Tara was near.

"So, was I dangerous?"

"No," she said bluntly as she tensed and turned my chin to her face. "It's just that having the kind of power that you do…" I raised my eyebrows. "We do," she amended. "It's more than just throwing a spell here and there to kill the big evil. We have a responsibility to respect natural order and be aware of the consequences of having a gift this influential." She paused, biting her lower lip, and then half rolling her eyes. "And that came out a little more dramatic than I meant."

"I think I get it. I was being, um, careless and you called me on it?"

"Not so much careless but…" her brow furrowed. "Willow…what you learned to do in a year, most witches spend a lifetime trying to attain. You were advancing so quickly that I was worried about…"

"…Me trivializing the power since it came so easy?" I finished. She shifted a little beside me, as if she wanted to agree, at least partly, but hating to say a negative word on my character.

"So what was my problem with your suggestion? I mean you told me that you've been a Wiccan witchy all your life. You're bound to know more than a girl that only came to this…" I did a quick estimate based on the vague timeline I knew. "…Maybe three years ago."

She moved the fingers that had been resting on my shoulder up the long muscle of my neck and around the rim of my face, stopping at my temple and tapping lightly.

"Yeah, but I think you're on a higher leaning curve than most."

"Hey, now," I responded with a little frown. "I saw your GPA and your scholarship papers missy…if I'm at the superbrain round table, you better be there too."

Tara's hand moved through my hair, as she leaned closer to press a kiss on my forehead, before returning to its shoulder perch. A shiver followed her path precisely.

"It was a stressful time," she tried again to explain.

"Right, because we never have those," I sarcastically mocked. She poked me in the ribs causing a howl.

"Let me finish, dork." She grinned before sobering up. "Joyce had died recently and…and Glory was putting the fear into everyone. There was a lot of pressure to find a way to stop her for good. We had recently tried a teleportation spell on one encounter. It worked, just barely, but it hurt you. When you began researching more powerful spells and reworking the teleportation spell, I told you that I thought it was too advanced. You countered that it was the only thing that had ever even dented her. That was true…every time Buffy or the rest of us ran into her, it felt like we were lucky to be alive at the end of the confrontation. Neither side of the issue was all wrong or right. It was just a matter of trying to do the best we could manage."

I nodded, placing my head back on her shoulder.

"So, tell me what to do?"

Her cheek pressed into the top of head. "It's not my decision to make."

"But?" A jaw-cracking yawn hit me and I manuvered my head onto her lap, looking up to meet her face to face.

"Do you want to try?" she sidestepped with a question.

"It's kinda like I don't know what it means to miss the magick so who am I to say. With it I did a lot of good…but a lot of bad things happened because of it too. But we should probably at least look over the ritual and, since were both members of the superbrain roundtable, try to decide if it's okay."

Tara wordlessly nodded; the game plan seemed to set well with her. After a few moments she began trying to find a new position for her cast now that I was in its former resting place.

"Hey, it's just a few hours 'til the big saw party, right?" I said with a wink.

"Did you have to call it that?" She grimaced. Since I had discovered she wasn't looking forward to having the giant club on her appendage hacked off with scary rotary tools, I had teased her with it on more than one occasion.

"Well, no…but I like watching you squirm," I said pseudo innocently.

The rediscovery of flirty talk had been a pleasant surprise. The first few times either of us tried, we were so worried about the other's reaction that it barely registered. Now it was more of the fun.

"There are better ways to see me squirm," she replied without a beat in a low husky voice before dictating plans and playfully pretending flirty time didn't happened at all. "I have an appointment with Dr. Jacob's just before. Xander will drop you off and then lift me to the hospital. We can meet back at the Magic Box in time for the meeting."

I settled her casted hand on my makeshift pillow tummy. "So what's the Sunnydale medical industry gonna do when it goes into financial ruin with two of its finest contributors on the mend."

"Frankly, I don't care."

"Me either."

Tara sat at the research table of the Magic Box, her arm feeling about ten pounds lighter now that it was just wrapped in finger splints and an Ace bandage. The best part now would be showers without the company of products from the makers Glad trashbags.

The bell above the door jingled merrily as Willow slipped in, green eyes immediately hunting to find hers. Tara tentatively waved her newly equipped hand. The smile that beamed on the redhead's face as she rushed forward caused a little sigh to escape from the blonde's lips.

In that moment, she had a change of mind…less complicated aqua acrobatic showers were nice, but having two hands to hold her girl was much, much better.

"Willow!" Dawn announced happily as she hugged the redhead near the doorway, where she was holding a feather duster. She came to the meeting to see her two favorite witches who she had been missing. Somehow she got shanghaied into Anya's House of Slave Labor (tm), which everyone else thought was volunteer community service.

"The Willster has arrived," Xander said through a bite of stringy pizza loaded with toppings. Many of said vegetables and meats fell to the table top with a splat. He picked them up with his free hand, licking off the sauce on his fingers between bites.

"That's deplorable," Giles, clean shaven and dressed in trademark tweed, remarked with a sickened face.

"Xander," Anya walloped him on the back of the head from her seat next to him. "Some of these books are from the sales rack."

"Is that some sort of operant conditioning technique?" Buffy asked as she emerged from the training room and lifted herself to sit on the counter.

"I'm surprised you know what those are," Giles said, finally placing the text he was captivated with on a clean part of the table.

"Hey I'm a proud member of the academia again. I've enrolled in classes for fall and everything. Plus I already took Psych 101…sure Walsh was a nutjob demon knitter but she knew her psychology material."

"It was probably better than Dr. Lewis for psych, he had a monotone that could put the winner of a international mocha drinking contest to sleep." Tara noted as she patted the space on the bench next to her.

"So you mean me," Willow replied, taking the offered seat. The nudge she received in the side was her yes.

"Now that everyone is here, I want to discuss a ritual that a good friend of mine found while translating some African scrolls."

"You didn't get this from a friend like Ethan Rayne did you? From what I've heard of him, I think I'd take a yeast infection over his 'help'," Anya said as she air quoted the last word.

A wave of disgust passed over the other members of the group and a moment of silence was taken to pray for a better visual.

Anya picked up a slice of pizza, taking a large bite in the interim.

Giles continued on, "It is a measurement tool of mystical aptitude that was used by an ancient order of extremely elite and sacred shamans to determine eligibility into their order." He turned specifically to Willow. "I believe it might shed some light on your predicament."

"What does it involve?"

"Basically, a series of symbols are drawn upon the floor in a line with sand. The symbols represent different states of ability as a practitioner of the art. The person that wished to be tested was anointed on the forehead with a mixture of oils and herbs. The tested then placed his or her hand into a bowl containing the mixture and chanted a verse. Whichever symbol began to glow indicated their ability."

"It's a witch-o-meter…like those strong man one's at the carnival," Xander remarked.

"Is it safe?" Tara questioned, clearly indicating the most important element on her mind.

"Indeed, I tried it on myself hours ago."

"And how did you fair G-man?"

"That's not important…what matters is that it seems effective and could provide us with some clues."

"You totally crapped out with the hammer, didn't you?" Buffy asked with a small smile.

Tara looked at him closely. She was getting the feeling that simply wasn't it at all.

"How is this a clue to anything? I mean so what if it says I'm the grand poomba of bell dinging. What does that prove?"

"These shamans were a very mathematical based order. They believed the essence of a person and their magicks were related and fully quantifiable. Some of the scrolls indicate that they were able to use their calculations to remerge persons who became lost during astral projection to different realms or states of being. These rituals could return a person to their natural state, localizing their essence."

"And you think that we can tap into my memory from a mystical backdoor and return me back to status quo?"


"This is a cause for celebration," Xander said as he picked up his can of fizzy soda in a toast gesture.

"I'm so happy for you guys," Dawn agreed cheerily as she toasted her own drink.

"Yes, it will be good to have you well even when you begin to dislike me and remember kissing Xander again." Anya said as she lifted her can.

"Are you trying to make her not do this?" Buffy asked coyly, raising her own sports bottle of water with a shake.

Willow looked to Tara, who had picked up the translations of the text at some point and began thoroughly reading them. The redhead squeezed her knee and stared deep into blue eyes that met hers from the stack of papers.

She saw what she needed in those orbs. Excitement. Relief. Hope. Love.

"What do we do first?" Willow asked calmly and confidently as she intertwined both of their hands around Tara's soda and met the other converging drinks with a clink.

Part 9: Not Alone

I sat, lotus position, on the wood floor of the training room. My hand was immersed in three inches of powered herbs and oil. The chant fell from my lips in semi broken, but accurate Latin…again.

Nothing happened…again.

Anya was bent over the sand squinting for something. I'm not sure she had any idea what. Then again, I didn't either.

Buffy, Dawn, and Xander were in the front of the shop, but I could hear their whispers as they bumped into each other from the other side of the door.

Tara was sitting on a pile of mats a few steps away, biting her lower lip with a contemplative expression.

"Do it once more," Giles directed gently, a tinge of worry in his voice.

I think I should have felt a hundred emotions. Where was the panic that I would never get my memories back? Why wasn't I flailing helplessly in the water, reaching for the life preserver that was my past?

Where was the fear that I would always be inferior to a person I could never truly understand?

Why wasn't I worried that I could never be restored to genuine factory grade Willow?

Where was the sadness of loss?

Where was the anger that should follow the unfairness? I saved the whole world…where was my reward?

Devoid of so many emotions, I should've felt empty and coldhearted. Instead I was calm. There seemed to be a warm ray of light shining on this discovery.

I had known after the first attempt. The link to that Willow was gone. There was no witch anymore. She was just someone to be scribed into a book and put on a shelf. The power was now nonexistent, wiped away just as my memories, but even more so as I felt that there was no possibility for its return.

Cleaning my hand off carefully with a handtowel, I tried to reconcile my quick acceptance. Perhaps somewhere deep within me I had already comprehended this realization. Or perhaps there was some solace in finding an answer…no matter on which side of the line it fell.

There was no super quickfix for my head. No one could wave a magic wand and put Humpty Dumpty back together again. And I guess that would have to be okay, fair or unfair, this was how it was…I could not revert but I could rebuild. Continue to rebuild on these modest foundations I have constructed.

I wondered if the rest of them would be so ready to accept what was lost.

Giles disbelievingly lifted the glasses from his nose and rubbed the knuckle of his index finger across a crease in his forehead. He pulled out a handkerchief and gave a quick halfhearted cleaning. This grand structure of my restoration lay to waste at his feet.

It was silent, as even Xander, Buffy, and Dawn entered the room and recognized this as a failure.

Part of me expected Anya to express her usual brand of levity to fracture the tension. Instead she gathered a hand sweep and collected the fine colored particles into bundles.

"Anya, what are you doing?" Giles beckoned as the glasses returned to his face.

"It's a really bad idea to leave mystic symbols lying about on the floor for any demon, vampire, or bad sorcerer to come along and use," she said, continuing her ministrations.

"We're not done yet," he responded.

"Yeah, we are," I answered, standing up and brushing at my jeans. "It's not…"

He cut me off. "Perhaps I have the incantation wrong. Let me check with my associates and we can try again in a few days."

"No Giles," I said firmly. "Thank you, so much for this, but it's not there." He nodded reluctantly, acknowledging the same revelation I already understood.

"I think I get it now. Maybe this was my price. The price of my actions that night."

Tara stood from the mats with eyes glossy due to unshed tears. I went to her, propelled by a need to be at her side. I wanted her to say she wasn't devastated. I desired to remove the guilt that had to be unnecessarily emanating from her body.

"But maybe I knew that all along. After all, some actions are worth the consequences." My eyes never left Tara's. Saving you was worth this. That was a truth vibrating through every fiber of my being.

She brushed my cheek and kissed me deeply, tenderly. For a brief second, there was no one else in the room. My heartbeat found such intensity, pounding so hard that I imagine she must have felt it in the space between us. Her hand moved to my waist, simply holding.

When there was something important to be said, Tara needed no words. I'm yours and you're mine, Willow…no matter what…always. Her silent eloquence of lips, hands, and eyes told me everything I needed to hear. It gave me all the strength I needed to face anyone else.

I turned to the rest of them. Tara's hand still holding my waist, a strong grip keeping us close. "I don't want to continue down this path. Clinging to bits and pieces that I can't get back. I know I am different than I was and…and I hope that you can learn to accept what I am now."

Xander approached with his arms open wide, his heart as big as his goofy smile. "I can," he whispered quietly as I took in his hug.

Dawn quickly added her arms with much gusto. "We love you Willow."

"We do," Buffy joined the hug, not as a protector of the people, but as a friend.

"I like you much better now," Anya said, softly but matter-of-factly as she deposited the sand in a wastebasket.

I walked over to Giles who had backed away from the hug fest. I would probably never learn just how much painstaking labor he had dedicated to this cause. I wanted to say how much I appreciated his effort, how deeply it touched me. I thought about my parents, each of whom called and e-mailed once I found a way to contact them. They were still miles away, both in distance and in memory. Miles away in deserving a name like mother or father. He was not.

Somehow I must have communicated this anyway, as he touched my shoulder and smiled humbly.

In each of their own ways they were saying, You may never be the same again, but you will never be alone.

Part 10: As It Should Be

Willow and Tara arrived home some time later courtesy of a slayer escort. As the door shut, Miss Kitty lifted her head from the cushy top of the sofa in a huff that heavily blamed them for interrupting her ten-hour nap.

Tara petted the grumpy cat as the black and white fluffball sniffed the new and funny smelling contraption replacing her cast. The cat hopped off the furniture and then began the age old ritual for sucking up to get dinner, which basically meant brushing up against Tara's legs a few times and meowing cutely.

"I meant to ask about that," Willow said, gesturing at her hand.

"Much physical therapy to come, but aligned correctly." Tara replied as she dumped a healthy portion of kibble into the small blue bowl. The cat ignored the two women as she scampered away to the food, no longer needing to be an adorable beggar.

"So,five fully fixed freely functioning fingers?" Willow quirkily asked as she ascended the staircase towards the bedroom.

"Five fully fixed freely functioning fingers in the finite future." Tara agreed as she watched the redhead scuttle to the upper level. She put away the bag and heard the shower cut on from above.

All in all it had been a pretty jarring night. First pulled to one extreme, where Willow could be healed. Then pushed back towards the other end where she was still without all her memories.

But being with Willow tonight had all been worth it…because a healing of sorts did occur. She watched the shadow of what had been forgotten stop eclipsing the redhead. She watched a woman stand up for who she is and defend herself. It made her damn proud.

Tara could learn to reconcile the losses. When Willow tried to evoke that spell the first time, Tara knew that something had changed. The tingle she usually felt when the redhead formerly cast was missing…it had scared her for a moment.

Magick and their relationship had always been connected. It was why they met, one typical day at a Wicca meeting. It was what gave Tara the courage to seek her out in the night of the Gentlemen. When they moved the cola machine to barricade the door, it was why the redhead saw part of her for the first time. Their budding friendship had been built around spells and late night magick talk. It had been the core of something so much bigger – their love.

Tara had fallen in love so quickly, never expecting Willow to feel that too. When the redhead reciprocated those thoughts she had been trying so hard to contain, she thanked every deity for bringing someone to her to share both connections with, the love and the magick.

Even as Willow became more adept and surpassed her abilities, the blonde had no jealousy or envy. Tara knew what she wanted more than power and spells and would gladly choose the fiery witch every time.

Then those two things, which had never been separated from each other in her mind, suddenly did when the ritual failed. So…she felt scared.

Then Willow did what she does best…made her feel like the most cherished person on the planet. Tara needed that reassurance tonight. Willow confirmed to her that what they had as a couple didn't depend on magick, nor was their love a side effect of floating roses and tinkerbell lights. She was telling the blonde that she could be happy as long as they were together. And while it maybe wasn't everything that Tara wanted, it was well more than enough.

As the blonde witch ascended the stairs she heard the squeak of the faucet knobs closing off the spray of hot and cold water. There were still some innate habits in that woman, such as short, water-conserving showers. Willow had once made a graph showing total water savings if everyone in Sunnydale cut three minutes off of their showers. After a five-minute presentation, Tara readily offered to shower with Willow to cut out her own usage.

Of course what resulted lasted a heck of a lot longer than either of their normal showers combined, but that was one of those moments that the Sunnydale Water Co. couldn't put a price on. It was a passionate fiery need that water did little to quench.

That passion was still there, as they learned each other once again, it was just not the first need in their progression. They had each needed safety when they first tumbled from the ground zero of their ordeals. Even over two months later, they each still sought the arms of the other when a nightmare pushed them back into the fear they were trying so hard to overcome. There was much comfort in that…having someone who had such a power of healing that they wanted…needed so deeply. Having the knowledge that there was someone who could fill that space that every person calls 'mine' and trusting that this was the person to make it 'ours' with.

Tara reached the bedroom, grabbing the door handle, but finding it locked. Willow squeaked out a, "Wait, wait, wait." Tara internally shrugged but stood still.

When the door finally cracked open a sliver, Tara could only see the side of a cute pale nose and a green eye.

"What are you doing, Will?" Tara asked quietly for some reason, recognizing that she was up to something.

"Feeling stupid right about now," was the muttered response from inside the room.

"Why?" When no reply was immediately given she asked again.

"Um, you know when you think you have a really good idea and you don't even think twice about it until you've already done whatever the idea was and then you think this was a really bad idea but you can't think of a way to get out of it because you already overthought everything."

"Will, can I come in?" the blonde asked as she lightly pressed on the door. It further gave way as the computer genius stepped back.

As she took in the appearance room, Tara's quick inhalation was the only betrayer of her otherwise passive face.

The fairy lights and deeply colored sheets acting as tapestries were strung around the room. Incense and candles wafted scents and glowing light, casting shadows here and there. Tara wondered when she had found the time to do all this and how perfectly she had transformed a formerly sterile room into something so sensual. "When did you…" She lost the rest of that sentence as her eyes swayed over the other woman.

Willow was not wearing her normal cotton cartoon pajamas but a silky black slip that look poured onto her lithe frame. Her hair was still slightly wet, the ends curled and waved by the moisture. Her green eyes danced around the room, as if ordering everything into place with her mind. She was biting the inside of her lip and trying not to look like she was gauging Tara for a reaction.

"I have a little confession," Willow started, bringing her thumb and index finger into a tiny pinching gesture to represent the insignificance. "I sorta didn't have an appointment with Dr. Jacobs today."

Tara's stomach flipped merrily before picking up on what was bothering her sexy girlfriend and plummeting. "You thought we would…celebrate after tonight. When you had your memories back and we…"

"No!" Willow vehemently denied, shocking both of them with the loudness of the word. "I wanted to prove it didn't matter to me, memories or no memories. I just wanted you to know that…either way." Willow's face scrunched up as if she was frustrated with the way her words were coming out. She turned away to face the wall and try to compose herself.

Tara knew what she was saying, even as the redhead fumbled for it. I've fallen for you all over again too, love. It took no courage to do what she did next - her shirt, skirt, and sandals fell to a puddle beside her on the floor. She reached her hand to Willow's shoulder, turning her slowly but firmly.

"You're beautiful," Willow whispered as she outlined warm curves with her eyes.

Tara gave a lop sided grin and pulled her closer, body to body. She grazed her lips by the redhead earlobe and answered, "You say that every time."

Willow lifted her fingers to the witch's ribs, fluttering over sensitive skin. "Well, it must be the truth then…memory be damned."

Tara giggled, squirming away from the tickle onslaught before starting one of her own. They maneuvered in and out of each attack before finally they both dragged the other towards the bed, flopping down together in the center, side by side, in a fit of unrestrained laughter.

As the silliness subsided, one reverent finger began tracing Tara's brow, down her nose, across her cheeks and chin before ending on her full lips. The blonde kissed the digit as she met piercing green eyes.

"Willow." Her voice quavered, desire filling the name…the only name that ever made her feel that way. She took the finger resting on her lip, running her tongue across it before sucking gently. Green eyes closed and a trembling breath filled the air as one wave of desire merged with another.

Tara turned on her back as she removed the last superfluous scraps of clothing that remained on her body. Willow began again mapping her skin with that single finger coated in saliva, taking her time to learn and caress every inch.

Writhing on the sheets below her, Tara somehow managed to not rush how her lover wanted to explore.

By the time the redhead reached the place Tara needed her most, it took only the simplest touch inside for her to become completely tense, the climax taking them both by surprise in timing and force as she fell over the edge.

When she felt herself come back from a hazy bliss, Tara pulled Willow up from the chosen resting place of her stomach, kissing her in a way that was completely and utterly thorough.

Both were panting heavily as the blonde lifted the slip away from her pale body and feasted on the tender neck of her lover as her uninjured hand took a much faster journey than her counterpart's had seconds before.

Passion comes in many forms…many ways, but when it is true it is the most intense feeling on the spectrum no matter how long it lasts. Some are glanced by true passion for only one brief moment in a lifespan. A few lucky souls know passion as everlasting.

As Willow erupted under the blonde's demanding touch, she knew she was one of the lucky. She cried a mantra of devotion in loud repetition as she was consumed and renewed at the same time.

"I love you. I love you. I love you."

Tara's only response was to kiss her hard one last time and take away the breath to speak. She used that breath to murmur her reply as tears streamed down her face, "I know." Willow's eyes had tracks of their own, running down her face and splashing unabashedly on her chest.

These were not tears of relief or pain or sadness, but of profound joy.

Together they were more powerful than the magick…than the memories.

They had both strayed from their path, obscured by tricks of light and unseen forks in the road.

But nothing would ultimately stop them from finding each other.

Because whenever something is lost, if it is sacred enough, it can always be found once more.

Epilogue – In This Our Life

Five Years Later

I admit it…I was embarrassed.

It's not everyday you respond to the miracle of creation with a header to the floor.

I remembered looking at Tara on my way down, her eyes got big…not in the 'oh, Goddess I'm worried' way but more in the incredulous 'you have got to be kidding me' way. Instinctively, she wanted to head towards me, but needless to say, she was busy. I waived her off with a mumble from the carpet, "I'm a-okay baby."

Buffy dragged me out of the room after that because it was supposed to be as low stress as possible and I managed to do my best impression of a binge night freshman without the prerequisite vomiting on someone's shoes.

So then I sat on the sidelines with Anya, who had been kicked out of the birthing room because Tara wanted to keep it quiet and the ex-demon couldn't stop reminiscing about the good old days of disemboweling lore.

"Will, she calling for you, ya' know…?" Xander half-stated, half-asked as he walked at of the bedroom with his face scrunched up. "Why did you guys decide to do this here anyways? Many townships in the settlement now include these things called hospitals…even for, you know, that." His face scrunched up again. "I would have even driven everyone in this nifty invention called a horseless carriage."

"Shut up, Xander." I replied, even as I wondered about that myself. Hospitals are all clean and sanitary for a reason. Our house, even after spring cleaning, never has that isopropyl alcoholy smell.

But Tara said that comfortable was important during this time, and if there's one thing I've learned it's to trust her implicitly.

After all, a little love and trust had brought us so far. We moved in together to our first shoebox of an apartment that late summer after my injury. We were broke, cramped, and crazy happy. I worked at the Magic Box with Anya and we both spent time in the Scooby Apocalyptic Research Squad when needed. It was not our life though. We didn't patrol; I never learned to reuse a crossbow…only to carry a mini water pistol of holy water and a cross. Yet the world didn't end or even come close…okay except maybe that once…but all and all not bad for a little town on the mouth of Hell.

That winter, after a semester of Computer Science classes that were interesting but not what I wanted, I made a heavily planned change to Anthropology while Tara continued on in Social Work. A handful of papers, exams, and long nights not engaged in our preferred late night activities, we both had degrees.

She went to work full time at a community outreach center, supporting me through my advanced degree. A couple of years later, I found my way to a teaching podium at the community college, where I still roam these days. When I'm ready to take the next step and get my doctorate, I know she'll be there for me too.

With two full time paychecks and a wish to live without neighbors on all sides of our walls, we bought a house. A smallish three bedroom in a good neighborhood where Buffy patrols in between late night pizza parties and our official weekly movie night. When she's not protecting the world, nagging Dawn at UCLA, or stuffing her face, she works as a library assistant at the new high school with Giles, who resumed his former title.

Anya and Xander got hitched in the fall after Glory's demise amidst the russet and yellow colored leaves of the municipal park. It was a small affair, just us family folks invited. We were spared both the blood larvae and burlap or sacred entrail ensembles but ended up in fall colored numbers that shimmered between a dark brown orange to a color that 'fluorescent orange' doesn't seem to be a harsh or accurate enough descriptor. They really weren't too bad if the camera caught you at just the right angle of the sun to avoid the traffic cone look. Needless to say, I took stacks and stacks of digital pictures and dumped the heinous ones without the bride or groom knowing. Now, they live a few blocks away; Xander the construction foreman and Anya the full owner of the Magic Box, buying out Giles with a few years of her shrewdly invested salary and a capitalistic dance of superiority.

Some say time heals everything. In many ways it has. My friends are now great friends. My rock…protector…healer…lover is still all these things and so, so many more.

But time, like magick, found its maker when trying to heal me. I haven't regained more than a few wisps of memories since I lost them so long ago. I have been given handfuls of glimpses into my past since then, which have formed a mosaic both varied and rich.

Far more though, I have made new memories. Tons and tons of new memories. These are mine…ours. I tend and cherish them so they'll not fade away. I have learned the value of never taken anything or anyone for granted.

I walked into our bedroom, Tara warmly meeting my eyes as the door closed. I came to her side and took her hand. "Everything alright?" She nodded, motioning me closer.

"Look at our little family," she said in an excited whisper. Curled up in my favorite sweater, which was now their favorite sweater, were Miss Kitty and our three new arrivals.

They were so tiny but so amazing. Tara was about as radiant as I had ever seen her, taking my breath away with a grace and ease unsurpassed. Then she leaned over and kissed me and redefined the whole standard of basis.

I never take for her for granted…not after all the trials we've made it through to get this far.

But I do still sometimes think of that moment, some five years ago, that changed everything. It's funny how an event that lasts a few seconds can so drastically alter so many other seconds thereafter. Who would I have been? Where would I be now?

Anya once told me that there's probably an alternate universe where I didn't lose my memory. She asked me if I would ever go there and peek. I said no.

When she asked my why not, I told her I'm already in the place that I belong.

It's just that simple.

The End

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