((Well, here I am with yet another update. I've also given some thought to ending the story right here... because it's at a cute point. But I'm not going to because I like it more than a little too much. So yeah, none of you have to worry that there will be no more updates. It is, however, the end of the fics centering around "New Moon Rising" (about time, right?) and while I kept some of it close to context, there's the inevitable variants, most notably the van scene with Willow and Oz. Yes it's different, I know that, I made it that way. And the song lyrics used throughout the first bit are from Switchfoot's "Learning to Breathe". Enjoy!!))

When Tara opened her door the first thought that flew across Willow's mind was that her dark blue eyes were even more beautiful when she had been crying. Her first impulse was to hug Tara to her, kissing away any tears that might still be waiting to fall. But all she did was say, "Hi."

"H-hi," Tara murmured, looking at Willow's neck instead of meeting her eyes. She stepped back and opened the door in invitation. But there was no air of delight like there usually was when Willow stepped in.

"I can't stay for long," Willow said, taking several steps before turning to face Tara and the closed door. The way Tara was looking anywhere but at her was strangely painful. Luckily a song had just come on the radio, filling up the tense silence. "I have class."

'Hello good morning how you do? What makes you rise-'

"Me e-either. I mean, I have cla-as too."

'This is the way that I say I need you.'

Willow glanced at the radio, surprised. It was such a fitting song for everything right now. "Good song."

Tara looked up at her quickly, the ghost of a smile flashing across her face. "It's a mix CD I made earlier."

"Oh..." There was no good reply to that.

'I'm learning to breathe, I'm learning to crawl'

She had to tell Tara what she had come here for, and soon, or Tara would go to class without knowing. "I just wanted to let you know, what you saw this morning, it wasn't-"

"It's okay," Tara interrupted. "I always knew that if he came back..."

There she went, doing exactly what Willow had known she would, and that couldn't go on. "We just talked, nothing happened."

'Hello good morning how you been, yesterday left my head kicked in'

Willow winced, looking away and wishing that the song would stop playing.

'I never never thought that I would fall like that
Never knew that I could hurt this bad.'

Tara seemed to shrink a little, but she did look up at Willow for more than five seconds, the slightest spark of hope lighting her eyes. "Oh... really?"

Willow nodded, wringing her hands together. How could she say everything right? But then she realized something. She didn't have to worry, this was Tara. Tara understood her when she had problems understanding herself.

'I'm finding that you and you alone can break my fall
I'm living again, awake and alive'

"I mean, it was intense. Kinda feel like my head is gonna explode."

Tara took a step forward, concern etched all over her face. "Your head is always too busy..."

'I'm dying to breathe in these abundant skies.'

That was when Willow saw the canvas. It didn't even take a moment for her to take in and understand the whole thing, except for her own eyes.

"Don't..." Tara said feebly when Willow stepped closer.

'This is the way that I say I need you'

Willow touched the dry paint, awed at the beautiful pain that was everywhere in it, in every splash of extra paint, in every line... "Willow, y-you weren't supposed to see..." That was Tara reflected in her painted eyes, and she was so hurt...

'This is the way that I say I love you.'

"Tara... I..." Willow stammered when she turned, amazed. She had known that Tara felt strongly for her, but something as moving as this painting belayed a deeper emotion. She moved closer to the blonde, raw emotion clogging her throat. "I don't know what to do."

'This is the way that I say I'm yours.'

Tara took a deep breath and reached out to push a lock of hair behind Willow's ear, caressing her cheek gently. "D-do what makes you h-h-happy."

And the pained sincerity behind those words made Willow's tears start to fall. She moved forward into Tara's arms, clinging to the blonde who had come to mean so much to her. The one who had made her see that life really was still worth living.

'I'm finding that you and you alone can break my fall.'

"It'll be okay," Tara whispered, kissing Willow's forehead. "Shhhh... I'm here." She continued kissing Willow's head, rubbing her back gently as the red-head cried. "I'll, I'll always be here."

"I know," Willow managed to say, pulling back enough to see Tara's face. She wasn't surprised to find tears sparkling in those blue eyes. Here she was, in the arms of someone who was almost positive that she was going to get the raw end of the deal, being comforted and soothed. What more could any woman ever want? Willow reached up to catch a tear that had escaped from Tara's eye, then leaned in to muffle a sob by pressing her lips against the blonde's.

It wasn't a kiss; Tara pulled away before it could become one. "Willow... you, you don't-" Willow silenced her with a kiss, her fears and doubts fading with the feel of those lips pressed to hers. But Tara pulled back again, her eyes desperate for an answer that her mouth would never give voice to.

"Please Tara," Willow whispered, leaning her forehead to Tara's, all of the longing and desire she had held back spilling out. It may not have been the best time, but, well, Willow had a history for never doing anything at the right time. "Please."

The half-smile that had always made Willow's heart flutter appeared before Tara leaned in for a kiss that left Willow breathless and dizzy. She didn't have time to catch her breath because Tara kissed her again, and again. Willow tangled her fingers in Tara's silken hair, stepping back until she bumped against the bed. She didn't even think before sinking back onto it, pulling Tara down on top of her.

Their bodies all but melded together as they had every time before. But there was a difference now, an electric current that seemed to jump between them every time they so much as shifted.

The way that Tara took control would have left Willow breathless if her kisses hadn't already done that. It was like when they did a spell. All doubt and uncertainty fled to be replaced with absolute confidence. From the kisses she trailed along Willow's neck to the way her hands were sliding up Willow's bare stomach - where did my shirt go? - Tara seemed to know what every whimper and hitch of breath meant. Yet, when her fingers brushed over Willow's bra, she pulled back as though burned when Willow arched up and cried out.

"I'm sorry," Tara whispered. "I-I-I shouldn't..."

"Oh yes, yes you should," Willow gasped, sliding Tara's hands back to where they had been.

Tara's eyes darkened with something that Willow could only call passion. She bent her head down and sucked lightly on Willow's earlobe when her hands gave a gentle squeeze. Willow's mind was reeling, but none of the thoughts had anything to do with the unpleasant situation she was in outside of this room. They were all focused on feeling... and there was a lot to feel.

The buzzer of Tara's alarm, sounding that it was time for class, was not welcomed warmly. Tara let out a disappointed moan and hit the buzzer hard. "Attendance required," she said, her fingers trailing up and down Willow's sides. "Otherwise you couldn't bribe me away from here."

Willow shifted to lie on her side, nuzzling Tara's neck for a moment before murmuring, "I think I found one of the very few things I would skip class for."

"You'd sk-kip class for me?" Tara asked, her voice sounding very small.

"I would. So long as there wasn't a test or paper due or attendance required or a guest speaker..." Willow nipped Tara's neck, smirking when the blonde moaned. She could easily get used to this. "Sadly, you have to go... so I'll go too. No reason to stay here wthout a Tara!" Even if the world was waiting outside with all of its problems and all of its... Oz.

"C-can I see you later?"

"Hmm... let me think about that." Willow tapped her lips as though lost in thought, trying not to grin. But when Tara bit her lip and looked away, the set of her shoulders saying that she believed Willow really had to consider, the fun of it faded away. She didn't want Tara to doubt anything, most especially her own worth. "Hey," she said, tilting Tara's head up and kissing her quickly. "I will most definitely see you later." Only when Tara returned her smile did Willow pull her shirt back on. She held the gray sweater she had been wearing for a moment before sliding it onto Tara's arms, kissing her shoulder when she was done.

"Mmmm... Willow-scent," Tara murmured.

"Exactly. It's my favorite sweater. I want it to smell like you." Willow blushed right to the root of her hair and looked away, adding quietly, "Wear it for awhile?"

"Anything for you."

It wasn't until they parted ways with a kiss that Willow really realized what she still had to do. A bit of the warmth and happiness that had filled her faded to be replaced with a resigned gloominess. But there was still a tiny corner that resonated warmth, because not even breaking Oz's heart could take away all of what Tara gave.

Despite herself Tara could not keep a happy smile off of her face as she walked across campus. She was much more confident now that Willow would come to her. But even if she didn't... Tara would be devastated, she couldn't even hope to deny that, but she always would have something special with Willow that nothing could take away. Not even Oz.

That was when she heard someone call for Willow, a voice she knew only because she had endured it twice. A slight lump raised up in her throat as she turned to find Oz walking towards her, looking slightly confused. "Hey," he said. "I thought I sme-heard Willow."

He smelled her on me! "Hey," Tara replied, her voice falsely happy. Then her eyes traveled down, as they always did, and her heart clenched painfully. Oz was holding a portfolio that all incoming students for UC Sunnydale received."You're, uh, coming back to school here, huh?" Her voice was far too mellow. If Oz came back to school then everything would change... the confidence that she at least had a chance with Willow popped like a bubble.

"Pretty much, feeling oddly motivated." Oz smiled slightly, but had an odd look on his face. It was almost like he was looking for someone. Of course he was - Tara had Willow's sweater on and that was covered in the other woman's scent!

"That's uh, that's great," Tara said, her voice going back to the falsely happy one she had adopted earlier. Her heart had dropped past her stomach, heading straight for her feet. "I mean, that's gr-great for you and Willow, right?" My Willow! an angry, but quiet, voice inside of her proclaimed. She was going to be mine!

"I hope so," Oz replied, an even stranger look on his face as he realized that Willow wasn't anywhere nearby.

"Good." Tara didn't mean that, not at all. It wasn't even close to good, it was terrible! She should tell him; a very small part of her decided that he needed to hear something and she added, "Because uh-"

"Is that her sweater?" Oz interrupted, seeming to notice what Tara was wearing for the first time.

Now that he had noticed, Tara decided that she didn't need to tell him anything. She just needed to say things that would relay to Willow her desire to be a good friend no matter what choice was made. "I just... I just hope you two will be very, uh.. happy." She couldn't keep her disappointment out of the last word.

Oz made no indication that he had heard any of what Tara had said. "You smell like her," he declared, taking a step forward and trying to catch Tara's eye. When Tara started to look up, her heart definitely in her feet now, he continued, "She's all over you, do you know that?" His voice was strangely calm and level, but then, everyone had always remarked on how together Oz was, how tight a grip he kept on his emotions.

"I can't," Tara declared, her eyes widening in shock. "I c-can't, I can't talk about that." It wasn't for her to decide what Oz knew about her relationship with Willow. She surely wasn't going to reveal anything to him, no matter what that tiny voice wanted to do. Willow would be angry if she knew that Tara had told... Tara started away, hoping that Oz would just let it lie or go looking for Willow.

"But there's something to talk about?" Oz asked, his voice insistent as he gripped Tara's arm lightly. It didn't hurt, the pressure was just enough to keep her from walking away, and once he was sure that she would stay he let go.

Tara drew her breath in quickly, a stricken look on her face. Oz's reaction was what she had expected, though dreaded, all along. A light dawned on his face as though he had just realized... "Are you two involved?" His calm was breaking, Tara could see it crumbling away and she wished more than anything that she had taken a different route to class.

"I have to... I have to go," Tara said insistently, wanting nothing more than to get away from this short man. She didn't know him, she didn't have any right, or desire, to hurt and anger someone she didn't know.

"'Cause she never said anything to me like that and we talked all night," Oz said, talking fast as though saying it would make it all true. "And she never said-" Tara turned and started away, but he jumped after her, all pretenses of calm scattered to the wind as he grabbed hold of her arms. "No, stop!" he shouted, giving her a shake. "Is she in love with you?" His entire body trembled, his fear shining clearly in his eyes as he shook Tara again when she didn't answer. "Tell me! Is she-"

He stopped, and it didn't take a second for Tara to realize why. His eyes weren't darkening in anger, the pupils were actually expanding. The grip on her arms was becoming painful because his hands were changing, growing hairy with long nails sprouting out... "Changing," she whispered, terrified as she looked at him and saw that his teeth had grown as well. He was changing into a werewolf while it was light outside.

Oz looked at her as his eyes went completely black, but Tara saw a flash of the real color there, and said one word, "Run."

That was the moment when Tara decided that Oz wasn't bad after all, not if in the moment before he could have torn her to shreds, he instead told her to get out. If she lived through this and he stayed and got together with Willow, then maybe she would be able to tolerate him as more than an accessory of Willow. She wouldn't be happy, at all, but she wouldn't hate him.

But right now none of that mattered, because she had to run for her life.

Willow opened the door to the familiar van, one she would once have given the world to see, and climbed in with a heavy feeling in her heart. Even after all that had happened that night she knew what had to be done. She had to tell Oz, even though she thought that he might already know, that she was happy with Tara.

Oz didn't look at her, but kept his eyes straight ahead. I don't want to talk to you right now, he thought, knowing that it would only cause more turmoil he would have to work even harder to keep under control. It was hard enough right now to keep it beaten back. He kept replaying the conversation he had had with that Tara girl in the hallway before he changed, when he had realized that Willow was involved with her. "Not much to say," he grunted finally, hoping that he sounded gruff instead of confused and hurt.

"When did you decide to leave?" Willow asked, not bothering to disguise the pain in her voice.

"Pretty much now," Oz replied, glad for the simple subject matter. "I think it'd be for the best, safer for everyone that way."

"But you're doing so much better!" Willow exclaimed, leaning forward a little.

"No," Oz replied, squeezing his eyes shut. "It turns out that the one thing I tried to repress it for is the one thing that brings it out in me." He couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice. "That falls under the heading of ironic in my book." If only he could get angry, or anything, without the wolf inside of him surfacing.

"But you held it back," Willow said. "I... I saw it, back there. You kept the wolf from coming out."

"Not always," Oz remarked, remembering vividly the moment of knowing he was changing because of what had happened with Tara. The silence stretched between them, becoming palpable. "I guess I was stupid to think that you'd still be waiting after all this time, with nothing to wait for."

"It was hard," Willow admitted. "And then... I stopped, and everything changed."

Oz's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Are you happy?" he asked, needing to know that she was no matter how much it would hurt him.

A small smile flitted across Willow's face. "I am," she replied, and she sounded it. "I can't explain it, but-"

"Maybe it's better for both of us if you don't," Oz said painfully. Willow was happy, and that was all that mattered. His reason for staying in Sunnydale was gone. Now he could go back to the world and make something of himself apart from the Scoobies, maybe help other werewolves to control it...

Willow, hearing the pain in his voice, leaned over and hugged him hard. But only like Buffy would have hugged him, not like she would have once. So he hugged her back like they were just friends... because that was all they were now.

It hurt, but Oz knew that he would be able to accept it soon enough. That was just the way things had turned out.

The power had been out for hours, but Tara had not bothered to light any of her multitude of candles. She had them, she just didn't have the desire to light up the room. There was that painting still sitting in the corner that revealed a scene she was starting to think might come true all too soon. All she wanted to see was Willow, but she didn't know if that was going to happen anymore.

Someone knocked on her door. Her heart jumped into her throat, maybe it was Willow!, but fell just as quickly. It might just be her RA making rounds to make sure that everyone was alright despite the lack of electricity. Surely that girl down the hall couldn't survive without her laptop... Sighing, she unfolded herself from her sullen view of the moon and walked over to open the door, surprised beyond all belief to find Willow standing there. A thousand things to say piled up in her mind, from loving comments to scathing ones, but she didn't say anything at all.

"No candles?" Willow asked, the candle in her hands flickering and causing shadows to dance over her face. "Well, I brought one. It's extra flamey."

When Tara said nothing, the lump in her throat from earlier had swelled to twice its original size, Willow stepped forward, forcing her back, and closed the door. Tara, who had thought a lot about what she would say when Willow said that she wanted to go back to Oz despite it all, remained silent, but she took the candle. It was slightly soothing to stare at the flame.

"Tara, I-" Willow started.

Tara cut her off, unable to bear it. She didn't want Willow to have to suffer through telling her what she already knew. "I-it's alright," she stammered. "I understand. You have to be with the one you l-love." That word came the hardest. Because she loved Willow.

Willow drew in a deep breath and looked at her, a smile curving her lips. "I am," she declared.

Tara's eyes widened as she looked up, hardly daring to dream. "You mean...?" she asked, her heart in her voice.

"I mean," Willow replied, her voice shaky. "Okay?"

"Oh yes," Tara replied, her face glowing with more than the light of the candle.

"I know what I've put you through," Willow added, stepping even closer. "And I'm going to make it up to you." Her smile turned a little devious, though it was still sweet. "Starting right now."

"Right now?" Tara asked and, when Willow nodded, she blew the candle out.

Neither one of them needed light to find the bed. They didn't do anything, they had plenty of time after all, except for cuddle up to each other and kiss. Nothing new, but Tara felt like a whole new world had been revealed to her. Willow loved her, Willow had chosen her... could there be anything better in the world?