TITLE: That Magic (Christmas) Feeling
DISCLAIMER: Willow, Tara and any other characters from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise belong to Joss Whedon, FOX, ME and a whole host of other entities, none of which are me.
SUMMARY: A bad day turns a lot better for Willow...
SPOILERS: None at all, this is an AU Sunnydale with no demons, or hellmouth.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Orignally written for a challenge over on the KittenBoard
FEEDBACK: Go for it!
"I cannot believe I'm doing this."
"You were the one who said you needed extra cash, Willow."
Willow sighed and looked down at her attire, shaking her head in mutual disdain and slight horror.
"Should have just gotten a job at Starbucks like any other normal college student," she mumbled before turning to her friend Buffy and scowling, "I look like an elf! An inexplicably tall, Jewish elf!"
"Okay, first off, you're supposed to look like an elf," Buffy replied with a shake of her head, placing her hands on her friend's shoulders for reassurance, "And anyway, your ears are nowhere near pointy enough."
Willow batted Buffy's hands away from her shoulders and scowled harder before turning towards the mirror in the small dressing room they were standing in, taking in the attire she was wearing with more than a little disdain.
She adjusted the sleeveless, and much-too-tight-for-her-liking green waistcoat that was sitting over her shoulders, and pulled at the end of the miniscule red skirt, trying to get it to cover as much as she could, which even with her insistent tugging, wasn't very much.
The only good thing about the outfit, Willow felt, were the candy cane striped stockings – at least with those, the majority of her legs were covered. Even if the short skirt meant her thighs were pretty much all on show.
"Stop stressing and sit down so I can do your make-up," Buffy's voice pulled the redhead from her reverie.
Willow took one last self-deprecating look in the full-length mirror before spinning around and sitting down in the chair Buffy was pointing to as the petite blonde started rooting through the make-up bag she had brought with her.
"Thanks for coming with me today," Willow said in a genuine tone, "I would have balked and just ran home already if you hadn't been here to make me stay."
Buffy started laying out all her make up on the small table next to the chair.
"Willow, you have nothing to worry about. All you have to do is stand around and look pretty for the day and you get paid $200! I'm a little jealous I didn't try to get this gig myself."
Willow nervously bit the skin on the side of her thumb. She'd wanted to get some extra cash for the holiday season, but didn't want to commit to a long-term job since she knew once classes started up at UC Sunnydale again, she'd be giving her studies her full attention.
So when a man had stopped her while she was shopping in the mall one day and asked if she'd be willing to spend Christmas Eve as a helper for "Santa's Grotto", 10 hours work for a cool $200, she had jumped at the chance.
That was, until she had arrived that morning, Buffy in tow since her friend was planning on doing some last minute shopping, and had been handed the outfit she had to wear. Revealing clothes were not something she wore often – ever really. And not once in her 19 years had she ever had quite so much skin on show.
"This is hardly appropriate clothing to be around children with," she muttered and Buffy laughed.
"Maybe not, but you'll get all the Dads wanting to bring their kids to see Santa," Buffy replied, "And who knows, maybe some hot big sister will see you and swoon at your feet."
"I haven't had any luck with the ladies so far, I don't think anything is gonna change today."
Buffy looked at her friend pointedly and with a grin.
"Then you really haven't seen what you're wearing."
Willow blushed even harder and was about to protest with she caught sight of what Buffy had just pulled out of her make-up bag and looked confused.
"Why do you have a Tupperware container?"
"For this!" Buffy proclaimed cheerily, opening the small contained and pulling out a knob of something small and yellow.
Willow still looked confused.
"And that is...?"
"A cube of butter," Buffy replied nonchalantly as she went about rubbing it over the redhead's cheeks. Willow, understandably, pushed her away, making the blonde throw up her hands in exasperation, "What?"
"You're rubbing butter on my face, that's what!" Willow replied, rubbing at her cheek, "Ew, it's all greasy."
"And it's melting in my hand," Buffy responded, lightly rubbing some of the butter between her fingers and then again over her friend's skin, "Look, it makes a nice glow and your foundation will stay on your face all day. It's one of those girlie tricks. You just need a little. There. Perfect. Now stay still while I apply your actual make-up."
Willow diligently stayed still while Buffy applied her make-up, highlighting her cheekbones with a dash of blusher and making her eyes pop with green eyeshadow, finishing by pronouncing her lips with ruby-red lipstick, the overall effect adding to the Christmas theme her outfit was trying to illustrate.
"Excellent," Buffy grinned as she clapped her hands in appreciation of her own work, "Do you feel full of Christmas cheer?"
Willow was stopped from responding as the shrill sound of a cell phone ringing burst from Buffy's pocket and the blonde retrieved it and snapped it open, putting it against her ear.
"Hello? Oh hey Mom. Yea, I'm at the mall. Yes. No. No... Mom! No! I'm not taking care of the little brat! It's a Saturday, can't she go to one of her stupid friends?! Eurgh. Fine. I'm leaving. But I hope you know you're ruining my life!"
Buffy angrily shut her phone and scowled.
"Called up for babysitting duties?" Willow questioned with a smirk, oddly pleased that she wasn't the only one who was in for a day of dealing with annoying children.
"Dawn's 13, I don't see why she can't look after herself for a few hours," Buffy replied, kicking the leg of the chair in frustration, "She's gonna wanna try on all my clothes. Eurgh. I gotta go, Will, Mom's collecting me, but good luck with the gig! I'll see you tomorrow for Christmas!"
Willow gave a small wave as Buffy rushed out of the room with her purse and make-up bag and the redhead started to gather her own belongings, putting them in the small locker provided in the changing room of the mall. She glanced down at her watch and sighed as she saw it was time she headed out, so grabbed the pointed red had that completed her outfit and left the changing room.
Keeping her head down to avoid stares from any of the mall's patrons, she quickly walked from the set of changing rooms over to where a large wooden house was set up in the middle of the mall, surrounded by plastic Christmas trees, brightly decorated, the surfaces of the trees and the house, as well as the floor around the area all covered in fake snow.
Willow did have to admit, it looked quite spectacular.
"Elf 2 is here!" a man's loud voice was heard as Willow was suddenly tugged to the side, "You're late."
"Um, sorry," Willow replied, blushing profusely.
The man didn't respond, just continued to look around himself and nodded.
"Okay, this is your side of the cabin, you can collect the entrance fee in this little box here," he said, pointing to a shiny-red money box sitting on a small circular table just off to the side, "Make sure the kids stay out of the props and the line stays going steady. Let the parents take pictures of their kids with Santa, if they want, but push them along if they're taking up too much time. You got it?"
Willow nodded, too scared to say anything by the man's brusque demeanour. She looked off to the side and saw another girl standing on the other side of the cabin, dressed the same attire she was and also with red hair.
Did I get asked to do this just 'cause of my hair colour? I guess it is Christmas-y...
She pondered the question for another moment before noticing a parent and child walking towards her and adopted a cheery smile.
"Welcome to Santa's Grotto. Santa's waiting for you, right inside!"
The little boy squealed excitedly and ran inside the door, where Willow heard a loud 'Ho, Ho, Ho' coming from the 'Santa' who was sitting inside. The mother of the child handed her a $5 dollar note and followed her son inside. Willow deposited the note in the cashbox and smiled as she saw some more people start to form a line near her.
This isn't so bad...
Quite a few hours later, Willow had definitely begun to think differently, as she struggled with children trying to run around the Grotto, eat the fake snow and pushy parents who were holding up the line by taking any entire reel of film's worth of photographs.
Only one hour to go...
"I'm seeing Santa!"
Willow was pulled from her thoughts at the sound of a little girl's excited voice and she looked down to see the child excitedly pulling at her mother's pants leg.
"Have you been a good girl this year?" Willow asked with forced cheer.
The little girl looked up at her quizzically for a moment before abruptly kicking the redhead's shin.
"Only Santa's allowed ask me that!"
Willow grabbed her shin in shock from the kick, causing her to stumble for a few moments before eventually falling over completely. She fell backwards, crashing into one of the fake Christmas trees, which in turn hit against the row of fairy lights hanging above the cabin, making them crash down to the floor, with the other trees they were connected to.
All Willow could hear were screams of fright from the children at the loud banging sounds the ruckus had caused as she struggled to stand up. When she eventually managed to, she was pulled off to the side from the man who had 'greeted' her earlier.
"What on earth have you done?" he asked in an angry, but hushed tone, "You're ruined our entire set-up!"
Willow tried to speak.
"Look at this," the man gestured wildly with his hands, "Oh, just get out of here! Your paycheck might just cover the damages."
Willow opened and closed her mouth in shock and the man glared at her.
"Leave! You're fired!"
Willow went to say something but didn't know what, so instead just turned and started running back towards the changing room, wanting to just change back into her comfy clothes, and go home to her comfy bed, for the first time happy that her parents weren't around and she'd have the place to herself to forget about the day from hell.
She closed the door of the changing room behind her when she arrived and walked towards the locker, fishing around in her breast pocket for the small key that she had locked it up with. She produced the key and went to put it in the lock, frowning when she saw the lock was broken and inhaling sharply when she noticed the locker door was slightly ajar.
"Please no, please no, please no," she begged under her breath, letting out a groan when she swung the door open and saw it completely empty, "Damn it, damn it, damn it!"
Her clothes hadn't been the only thing in the locket, she'd left her keys, phone and wallet in there too, having had no pockets large enough to keep them with her. And now it seemed they were all in the possession of someone who broke into the locker to steal them.
She took a few deep breaths to try and curb the tears that were threatening to fall, but it was of no use as she felt the salty droplets on her cheeks a moment later. Having no tissue, or even enough clothing to wipe them away, she quickly scurried out of the changing rooms and into the bathrooms that were just a few feet away.
As soon as she closed the bathroom door behind her, any self-control she'd been hanging onto, faltered and deep sobs rose from her throat. She grabbed a handful of paper towels and sank to the floor, bringing her knees up to her chest and dropping her head against them as she continued to cry.
She wasn't sure how long she stayed like that until she felt an arm wrap around each of her shoulders. Her first thought was that she should have locked herself into one of the stalls instead of just breaking down on the bathroom floor to avoid any awkward encounters with anyone else who might have entered, but that thought quickly left her mind as she heard the most angelic voice whisper in her ear.
"Hey, it's okay. There's no need to cry."
Willow cautiously raised her head and felt her tears dry up instantly as she took in the features of the beautiful brunette woman beside her. Instantly feeling self-conscious, she went to wipe her face with one of the paper towels but the brunette took a hold of it first and gently wiped away at her eyes.
"There you go. A face as pretty as yours shouldn't be hidden like that."
"Thank you," she replied before wincing, embarrassed, "I must look like a huge loser, crying in the bathroom of a mall."
The other woman just shook her head.
"No, you just looked like you needed a hug," she smiled before looking self-conscious as well, "And I must seem like a complete weirdo who hugs strangers in bathrooms."
"No, no," Willow hastened to reassure, "It was really nice of you. Really kind. I, um...I've had a bit of a crappy day."
"That doesn't sound good."
"Yea, it really wa-" Willow was cut off by the sound of her stomach rumbling loudly and she blushed bright red.
The woman just smiled and nodded towards the door.
"Wanna go get some food?"
"Um, thanks," Willow replied, blushing more, "But, um, I kinda have no money, so..."
"Don't worry about it," the brunette cut the redhead off, standing up and pulling Willow up with her, "You can't just go hungry. I'm Tara, by the way."
"Tara," Willow repeated the name reverently, "I'm, um...I'm Willow."
Tara stuck her hand out and Willow went to shake it, almost gasping at the electric shock she felt go through her at the contact. She looked up and saw that Tara too looked kind of dazed and gave the brunette's hand a squeeze before letting go.
She watched as Tara gave a small, almost secretive smile before squeezing her shoulder.
"Come on, I was just about to head up to the food court to grab some food anyway."
"Tara, are you sure?" Willow asked as they walked from the bathroom and towards the escalator up to the food court, "I mean, are you normally this nice to girls you find crying in the bathroom?"
Tara looked down bashfully.
"Only the cute ones."
Willow blushed but a huge grin spread on her face, feeling a thousand times better than she had just a few minutes before.
"Have you got a food preference?" Tara asked shyly as they arrived in the food court.
She wasn't sure quite what had prompted her to sit down next to the redhead in the bathroom, but she had and in the process had discovered what she thought to be the most beautiful girl she'd ever seen in her life. And she couldn't explain it, but there was a connection. She didn't care that they'd known each other all of 5 minutes, there was a connection.
"Um, I don't really mind," Willow replied to the question, "I didn't get lunch, so I'd eat pretty much anything."
Tara gestured for the redhead to sit at one of the tables near them.
"Kajun Kitchen do pretty good chicken," Tara suggested with a shrug, "Would that be okay?"
Willow nodded and Tara smiled, before turning and going towards one of the counters with 'Kajun Kitchen' written above it. Willow watched her go, her thoughts quickly going into overdrive.
This is almost like a date. There's food and there's sitting and there's...there's flirting. She called me cute. And pretty. And there's tingles, lots and lots of tingles. Is she tingling? I think she's tingling. She looks at me like she's tingling. Oh wow. Something's happening here. Something big. She's...she's something big.
Tara returned then, carrying a tray with two paper plates and two soda cups.
"They were just about to close, we were lucky. Chicken and rice and Diet Coke," she said as she sat down opposite the redhead, "Is that okay?"
"Very," Willow replied, eagerly grabbing a fork and spearing a piece of chicken into mouth, her hunger overpowering her, "Thank you so much, Tara. I promise I'll pay you back."
"Don't worry about it," Tara replied, slowly eating her own food, "So, um, what brings a girl to be crying in the bathroom of a mall?"
Willow blushed slightly.
"Um, okay...Do you want the full story?"
Tara nodded as she took a sip from her drink.
"If you don't mind sharing."
Willow shook her head before taking a deep breath.
"Okay, so I, um, had a job, just for today, to be...well, to be an elf at Santa's Grotto that was happening in the mall today."
Tara nodded and gave a small smile.
"I was wondering about the outfit. Seemed a bit much just to be festive."
"Tell me about it," Willow glanced down with a shake of her head, "But, yea, so I was there and it was pretty crappy, all these kids running around and stuff, but then one of them kicked me because I asked a question that apparently is reserved only for Santa. And I fell and well, everything kinda...collapsed."
Tara looked over the table caringly.
"I saw the broken trees and stuff on my way to the bathroom. I thought a kid maybe did it."
"Nope, all me," Willow sighed exasperatedly, "So yea, they fired me and kept my paycheck to cover the damages."
"Can they do that?"
"I dunno, but they did," Willow replied, shaking her head, "And then, I go back to get changed out of these god-awful clothes and someone broke into my locker and took everything. My clothes, my wallet, my keys. Everything."
"Oh Willow," Tara reached across the table and took one of the smaller girl's hands, "That's terrible."
"Um, yea," Willow replied, gulping and looking down at where Tara's hand was covering her own, "It, um...it sucked. I, uh...I don't even know how I'm gonna get home."
Tara moved her hand up and cupped the redhead's cheek, stroking the skin under her thumb for just a moment.
"Don't worry, we'll get you home."
Willow instinctively leaned into the touch and smiled softly.
"Thank you. You're like my guardian angel."
"I don't know about that," Tara blushed, taking her hand back, "But I'm happy I can help."
Willow looked down coyly and continued eating, looking up occasionally to take a shy peek at Tara and smiling when she saw the brunette doing the same. When they were both finished, she gathered their trash on the tray and brought it over to throw it in the trash can, blushing when a couple of guys wolf-whistled at her on her way back to Tara.
"Are you really uncomfortable in those clothes?" Tara asked gently as the redhead sat down at pulled at the end of her skirt.
"More like embarrassed beyond belief," Willow muttered, holding a hand in front of her face.
Tara looked thoughtful for a moment before standing up and holding her hand out.
"Come on, I know where we can get you some proper clothes."
Willow looked up into Tara's kind features and then at the offered hand. She had no idea why, but she trusted the brunette. So she giddily took her hand and beamed when Tara didn't let go after pulling her up.
"Where are we going?" Willow asked as she was lead down the escalator onto another floor of the mall.
"Just down here..." Tara answered before stopping in front of a large department store, "Here."
Willow looked at the store and shook her head.
"Tara, I can't let you buy me clothes, really, I mean you were so nice with the food and everything..."
"Just trust me," Tara answered and Willow nodded.
Tara seemed very pleased by that answer and started to lead the redhead through the rows and rows of clothes until a woman suddenly stopped them.
"Tara! Bonswa. I jridu jixtru umbrella. Huwa ix-xita."
Tara smiled at the woman and pointed towards the front of the store.
"Bonswa, Russlana. Dawn huma fuq quddiem tal-maħżen."
The woman smiled back and started making her way towards where Tara had pointed. Willow looked at the brunette curiously.
"Um, what language was that?"
"Maltese. My grandmother was from Malta, I grew up speaking the language," Tara answered as she continued walking them in the opposite direction, "She's a regular customer here, doesn't speak a word of English so I'm the only one she talks to. She's lucky I was here, my shift ended an hour ago."
"You work here?" Willow asked and smiled when Tara produced an ID keycard, "You work here."
"I do," Tara replied as she used the keycard to gain them access into the "employee's only" backroom, turning on the lights and pointed to a box in the corner of the room, regretfully letting go of the redhead' hand in the process, "See those clothes? They're all ones we don't sell that we're going to donate to charity, so you can choose what you like."
"Really?" Willow asked, trying to ignore the pang of loss when Tara dropped her hand, "You won't get in trouble or anything, will you?"
"No, I've got a great boss," Tara answered with a smile, "All the employees are allowed to look through and take stuff if they want it."
"Your boss sounds better than my ex-boss," Willow giggled as she knelt down beside the box and opened the top, "Even if he was just my boss for a few hours."
Tara knelt down beside the redhead.
"Anyone would be stupid to ever let you go."
Willow hid her blush by continuing to root through the box.
"This world would be a lot more Willow-friendly if everyone thought like you."
Tara gave a small smile.
"So I'm Willow-friendly?"
Willow looked up and matched the other girl's smile.
"The friendliest," she responded before looking back down into the box with a giggle, "And you're absolutely sure this is okay?"
Willow rooted for another moment before pulling out a pair of black sweat pants and a yellow t-shirt with a melting popsicle on it.
"These look comfy..."
"That t-shirt was a bestseller during the summer," Tara replied with a laugh, before standing up, "I'll, um...just stand over here while you get changed."
Tara walked over to the other side of the room and stood behind a rack of clothes. She tried not to think about the fact that Willow was taking her clothes off just a few feet away from her, but it was hard to when she could hear it happening so close.
"Done!" Willow's cheery voice came a moment later, and Tara walked back from behind the clothes, "Thank you so much, these are so much more comfortable than that damn outfit."
"They suit you," Tara smiled at the redhead, thinking Willow looked just as beautiful in sweats and a t-shirt then she had in the short skirt and tight top.
"Thanks," Willow replied, gathering the elf outfit in her arms, "Um, is there a trashcan? I never want to see these again."
Tara held her hands out and took the clothing, walking over to the trashcan in the room and dropping them in there.
"Never an elf shall you be again."
"And never will I degrade myself for money again."
"Glad to hear it," Tara smiled before nodding towards the door, "I did promise I'd get you home. I hope the bus is okay."
"Considering I thought I'd have to walk, the bus is great."
Tara giggled and started walking towards the door.
"I've never heard someone be so cheery about public trans..." Tara trailed off as she tried and failed to open the door, "It must be jammed. Will you help me?"
"Of course," Willow replied, scurrying over to the brunette, "Um..."
Tara held her keycard up.
"I need to tag my ID while we open, so on 3, we both tug, okay?"
"Okay," Willow replied and placed her hands over Tara's on the doorknob, "On 3."
Tara counted to three out loud and scanned her card at the same time as they both attempted to tug the open, but to no avail.
"Maybe it can be opened on the other side?" Willow suggested and Tara nodded.
"Hello?" Tara called loudly through the door as she banged on it, "It's Tara! The door's jammed!"
They both listened and waited for any kind of response, but there was none.
"That's weird, there should be someone on the shop floor close enough to hear," Tara remarked before a sudden thought occured to her, "Willow, what time is it?"
"Uh..." Willow glanced down at her watch, "Eight thirty. Why?"
Tara instantly paled.
"The mall closes at eight."
"No," Willow shook her head, "The mall closes at nine."
"Not on Christmas Eve," Tara answered, biting the side of her lip.
Willow looked completely confused for a few moments before panic broke out on her face.
"Are you saying no one's responding 'cause no one's there?! We're locked in here?!"
Tara put a hand on the redhead's shoulder comfortingly.
"Willow, it's okay, calm down."
"Calm down?! Calm down?!" Willow asked, banging loudly on the door, "How can I calm down?! Help! Help us! Why won't the door open!?"
"Because the mall shuts down its electricity during the night," Tara replied, trying to be the calm one, "The door operates electronically."
Willow made a scared noise and looked around.
"How are the lights working?"
"They operate on a different system, they all have to be turned off manually," Tara answered, knowing because she'd gotten in trouble once for leaving the lights on all night, "Okay, Willow, do you have a cell?"
Willow shook her head sadly and Tara gave an apologetic smile.
"Right. I'm sorry, I forgot, all your things got taken. And I left mine at home this morning," she said and looked around the room, "Willow, I think we're in here for the night."
Willow banged her hand against the door again and felt tears spring to her eyes. Tara noticed and quickly ran her thumbs under the redhead's eyes, gathering the moisture.
"It's okay. You're safe, I promise. And I know you barely know me, but I absolutely promise. You're safe."
Willow looked down for a moment and took a deep breath.
"Well I'm really making a name for myself as a cry-baby, huh?"
Tara rubbed a hand over the other girl's hair comfortingly.
"Not at all. Come sit down."
She guided them over to the battered sofa in the corner of the room and sat them both down, looking apologetic again.
"I'm sorry you have to spend Christmas Eve stuck in a store room with me."
Willow got a small smile on her face at that.
"I'm not, actually. If I had to spend a night in here, I'm glad it's with you."
Tara shook her head.
"You must have family waiting for you..."
"No," Willow shook her head as well, "My parents are in Aruba. They don't 'do' winter. And I'm Jewish so even if I was home we wouldn't be celebrating Christmas Eve. I'm going to my friend Buffy's for dinner tomorrow, with her Mom and sister and my best friend Xander. Oh god, someone will be around tomorrow to let us out, won't they!?"
"They will," Tara quickly reassured, "Some of the stores don't open, but this one does. I know, I'm supposed to work tomorrow."
Willow frowned at that.
"You're working Christmas?"
"Well I had nowhere else to go," Tara shrugged, "It seemed better than sitting home alone."
"You have no family?" Willow asked, her frown deepening, "Or, or friends to share it with?"
"My grandmother was my only family," Tara answered sadly, "She died a couple of years ago. And, um, no friends. At least none that asked if I wanted to share the holidays."
"Sorry about your grandmother," Willow replied genuinely, "I was really close to my grandmother too. Oh god, my car!"
Tara jumped slightly at Willow startled tone.
"They can't take my car, it was my Bubbe's car!" Willow continued desperately, "It was her baby and she left to me when she died and I promised I'd take care of it! I don't care about my cell or my wallet, but they took my keys! If they figure out which one it is..."
"They might not," Tara reached for the redhead's hand and gave it a squeeze, "It's more likely they ran when they found your wallet and didn't wait around for mall security to find them by looking for your car. I'm sure it'll still be out there in the morning."
Willow seemed to calm slightly at that and happily squeezed the brunette's hand too before looking up in thought.
"Mall security. Aren't there security guards around here at night."
"No," Tara shook her head, taking her hand back, "I'm not sure why, though some of the other girls said it's because no one is willing to take a job in this town after dark. Something about it being 'spooky'."
"Sunnydale is creepsville," Willow responded with a nod of her head, "I don't know why, it just is."
"It's better than LA," Tara replied, relaxing back into the sofa, "At least Sunnydale is quiet, most of the time. No screaming car alarms or shootings. I like the quiet."
Willow settled back into the sofa as well, happy to be getting to know more about the brunette woman she'd only known a couple of hours but felt like she'd known forever.
"You lived in LA?"
"Until I finished high school," Tara answered, "I was going to go to UCLA but then my grandmother died, and...well, I couldn't afford it anymore. And the city had too many memories, so I decided to move here. I'm hoping to start college next year, that's why I try to work as much as I can, so I can afford it."
Willow smiled at that.
"UCSD is a good school, we'd be lucky to have you. And if you lived on campus we could see each other all the time!" she gushed excitedly, before blushing, "If you wanted to."
"Of course I would," Tara smiled shyly, "And, um, I'd like to see you before I get onto the campus , too."
"Oh definitely," Willow nodded eagerly, "I mean, there's like nine months before the new school year starts, that's...that's a lot of time that we shouldn't waste. Hanging out. And um...and stuff."
The girls shared a smile for a few moments, both feeling something building between them. Something neither girl had felt before, but both knew it was special. They were special. Together, between them, they were special and the energy passing through each of them and to each other was electrifying.
"Stuff," Tara echoed and Willow felt her heart begin to beat rapidly.
"I'm gay!" Willow said suddenly, upon realising that while she was becoming quite aware that what was passing between them was certainly of the romantic variety, she wasn't even sure if what she was quickly considering to be 'her girl' even liked girls, "Um...I mean...uh, I didn't mean it to come out like that."
"You mean you didn't mean to come out like that?" Tara giggled with a smile, "And I know."
"You do?" Willow asked, her eyes wide, "Do I look gay? 'Cause Buffy says the reason I never get asked out is that I don't look gay enough."
Tara scoffed playfully and shook her head.
"First of all, Buffy's really stereotyping there and secondly, I knew because you're wearing a rainbow wristband with 'Gay Pride' written on it. Not many straight girls wear those. Although some do, I guess."
Willow looked down at the wristband she never took off and giggled.
"Oh. I guess I kinda forgot about this. I just always wear it."
Tara reached out and traced a finger on the wristband.
"I'd wear one too if I had one."
Willow tried to remain casual.
"As a straight girl...?"
"No," Tara scoffed again, "As a girl who's gay as..."
"Christmas?" Willow suggested before laughing, "For lack of a better term."
"Gay as Christmas," Tara confirmed with a grin, before playfully taping Willow's shin with her foot, "So tell me about yourself, Willow...?"
"Rosenberg," Willow answered and nodded with a smile, "I will if you will, Tara...?"
"Maclay," Tara laughed, "Okay. Well, I grew up in LA, you know that, and I was raised by my grandmother."
Willow nodded and bit the side of her lip.
"How come? Unless you don't want to say."
"No, it's okay," Tara responded with a small sigh, "Well my mother...my mother was a drug addict. And my father was her dealer. He was never in the picture, as far as I know anyway, and my mother took an overdose and died when I was two. So my grandmother took me in and raised me."
Willow looked shocked, despite the brunette having only said a few sentences.
"Tara, that's terrible. I'm...I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," Tara shook her head with a confident smile, "My grandmother gave me a great life. A wonderful childhood. Definitely not what I would have had with my parents. She taught me about nature and love..."
Willow looked at the taller girl curiously.
"Well, she told me that when I fell in love, I'd know the instant I laid eyes on the person," Tara replied, looking at the redhead pointedly, "And that if I ever let it go, she'd haunt me forever."
Willow burst into giggles.
"Wow, she sounds amazing. My grandmother was pretty amazing, too. She was a Holocaust survivor and she used to tell the most amazing stories about travelling here from Poland with my Zayde. Um, my grandfather," she replied before giggling again, "And she used to say that I had her heart and her strength and that it must skip a generation because my mother definitely didn't have it. My Mom's...well, she's not exactly parent of the year. She's always travelling with my Dad, mostly for work. They were never really around growing up."
"I'm sorry, sweetie," Tara responded and Willow felt her heart skip a beat at the term of endearment.
"It's okay. I had my grandmother, and like you said, she gave me a great childhood when she was around."
There was another shared smile between the two and Willow started to wonder how inappropriate it would be to just lean over and kiss the brunette. She wanted it. She was almost 100% that Tara wanted it. But that niggling doubt made her dismiss the thought – for now anyway – and instead started a conversation with Tara about their likes and dislikes.
She learned all she could about the brunette over the next little while, and shared all she could as well, not worrying about seeming anything other than her genuine self, something that she'd never felt quite so comfortable being before. Neither girl noticed that they'd both slipped their shoes off and were playing footsie with each other on the sofa.
"Then Buffy came along in high school," Willow spoke, just having told Tara about her and Xander had been friends since Kindergarten, "And our friend Jesse moved away, so Xander hung out with us more. And I didn't have to have my computer for company so much."
"You're a computer whiz?" Tara asked with a fond smile on her face.
"If ever a whiz there was!" Willow quipped, smiling too, "Yea, I love computers. Oh, oh, I just finished writing this program where your computer automatically records voices and translates it into text, so like, say I could use it in a lecture and not have to type or write a word. There's no real name for it yet, so I just call it Foomatic. Except there's already a printing filter called that, so I definitely couldn't use that as it's real name."
Tara gave a helpless shrug.
"Oh, okay," Willow replied, thinking for a moment of how to explain, "Well, you see, in hacker-world, that being the world in which hackers live and well, hack; 'foo,' or well, 'foobar' really, but 'foo' for short, is like a name we give to stuff as like a temporary hold. So since my programme detects voice automatically, I put foo plus matic and got Foomatic. Although now I think about it, maybe FooVoice is better... and you know, not already in use. Hmm..."
Tara laughed at the redhead's contemplative thought before an errant yawn escaped her lips. Her yawn set off the redhead, who brought a hand up to her mouth as she yawned too.
"Wow, it's late," she remarked as she glanced down at her watch, "We could probably catch some sleep..."
"Sure," Tara nodded, standing up, "Um, there's some old fur coats in that box we can use as blankets. It's getting pretty cold in here with no heating."
Willow smiled and watched Tara retrieve two jackets from the box of clothes the redhead had gotten her clothes from earlier before turning the lights off, plunging the room into darkness, though both girls' eyes adjusted quickly and could make out each other's outlines. Willow accepted the jacket handed to her but frowned when she saw Tara start to lie down on the floor alongside her on the sofa.
"There's, um...there's plenty of room up here, Tara," she said quietly and held her breath as she waited for a response.
Tara sat up.
"Are you sure?"
"Definitely," Willow replied, a little too quickly, but she didn't care, "Plenty of room. And it's much comfier than the floor."
Willow watched as Tara stood up completely and quickly shifted back as far as she could on the sofa, smiling in the darkness as the brunette lay down beside her, their bodies instinctively shuffling together underneath both fur coats.
"Goodnight, Tara," Willow whispered, their faces just inches apart.
Tara brought a hand up and gently tucked a piece of hair behind the redhead's ear.
Willow wanted so desperately to kiss Tara right then. But she didn't want to ruin the perfect moment passing between them even more. So she settled for smiling at the brunette in the shadows and placed a hand lightly on the other girl's waist.
It was barely seconds before they were both sleeping.
"Tara? Tara? Tara!"
Tara's eyes flew open at the repeated calling of her name and she jumped up from the sofa when she saw her boss, a middle-aged brunette woman named Olivia standing over her.
"Tara, what are you doing here so early?" Olivia questioned, ignoring the fact that she had been cuddling up to another woman on the sofa, "I just opened up."
"We got locked in last night," Tara explained and saw Olivia's eyes go wide.
"I accounted for all the staff before I closed up. Your shift ended before lock-up."
Tara started to explain the full story to Olivia, who listened in nothing short of complete surprise.
"Oh god, Tara, well are you okay?" she asked and got an answering nod, "Well obviously I'm not going to have you working after a night like that. Go home, rest. But in future, make sure someone knows if you're on the premises, especially in a hidden room like this."
"I will," Tara nodded, relieved she wasn't in more trouble, "I'm very sorry."
Olivia gave her employee's shoulder a quick squeeze before grinning down at Willow.
"Just a girl who needed some help, huh?" she asked and saw Tara blush, "I'm not even going to ask. Merry Christmas, Tara."
The older woman left the store room with a laugh and Tara knelt down alongside the sofa.
"Willow...Willow, sweetie, it's morning. It's Christmas."
Willow fluttered her eyes open and smiled at the face that greeted her.
"Good morning," Tara grinned, "We've been made."
Willow's brow crumpled in confusion before realisation dawned and she shot up on the sofa.
"We can leave?"
"We can leave," Tara confirmed, "I even got the day off of work."
"Great," Willow smiled and stood up, with a stretch, "That was the best night's sleep I've had in a long while."
"Cramped up on an old sofa in a freezing store room?" Tara questioned and Willow gave a bashful shrug.
"I had good company."
Tara blushed and nodded towards the door with a happy smile.
"Are you ready to leave?"
"Yea," Willow nodded, before suddenly remembering, "My car! I need, I need to check! My car!"
"Okay, we're leaving," Tara replied, quickly opening the door with her keycard.
Willow shot through the door like a rocket and started running at full speed. Tara kept up as best she could until they arrived in the car park and she saw the redhead throw herself over the bonnet of an older but obviously well-cared for blue T-bird. She walked the rest of the way over and smiled when she saw the look of pure relief on Willow's face.
"Safe and sound?"
"Thank god," Willow replied, running a hand down the car affectionately, "I keep a spare set of keys in the glove compartment, but I've just realised how silly that is if I'm already locked out of the car. There's a third set at home somewhere. I'll have to come back and collect her."
Tara turned her head in thought for a moment before smiling.
"Wait right there," she said, holding a finger up to indicate she'd only be one minute before turning back towards the mall.
Willow waited patiently for just a few minutes until Tara returned, coat hanger in hand, and gaped as the brunette began untwisting it and straightening it out.
"Are you gonna do what I think you're gonna do? 'Cause I thought that only worked in the movies."
Tara laughed and put a hand against the glass of the window, firmly but carefully pushing downwards until a small gap was made.
"No, it works in real life too."
Willow watched as Tara started to thread the hanger down through the gap, trying to latch onto the opening.
"Tara, you're not a car thief, right?"
Tara laughed again and shook her head.
"No, I just had a grandmother who lived to be a ripe, old age. A ripe, old, forgetful age. I lost count of the times she locked her keys in the car when we were out getting groceries," she replied, making continuous hooking motions with the hanger, "Just...okay...and...there!"
Willow squealed as the door popped open and threw her arms around the brunette.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
"You're welcome," Tara replied genuinely, squeezing back before they pulled apart and she continued sadly, "So I guess this is goodbye."
"What?" Willow asked in disbelief, "No, no, I...I can give you a ride home! It's the very least I can do after everything you've done for me."
"That'd be great," Tara replied, just as reluctant to leave the redhead's side yet, "Thanks."
Willow beamed and hopped into the driver's seat, retrieving the spare keys while Tara walked around the car, stopping just briefly to look at something before getting in the passenger side.
"Nice licence plate," she said with a smirk, "Willowtree252?"
"Oh," Willow blushed as she started the engine, "I got that when I got the car. My grandmother used to call me 'Willowtree'."
"That's very sweet," Tara replied genuinely, "And 252?"
Willow turned and met the brunette's eye.
"It was her area code in South Carolina. I know it's silly, but every time I dialled '252', I knew I was going to get to speak to her and it always lifted my spirits."
"That's not stupid," Tara responded, smiling, "It's not stupid at all."
Willow felt the flush in her cheeks again, but couldn't stop smiling.
"So where am I going?"
Tara rattled off her address and Willow started driving in the right direction. There was silence in the car until Willow suddenly piped up, the thoughts of having to leave Tara alone in her apartment when they got there too much for her to bear.
"Tara, have Christmas dinner with me. And my friends. Please? I really, really want you there."
"Willow, I wasn't lying when I said I wanted to spend more time together," Tara replied bashfully, "But I don't want to impose."
"You wouldn't be," Willow responded, her tone full of reassurance, "I absolutely promise, you wouldn't be. Mrs. Summers, that's Buffy's Mom, she always makes so much food and...please, Tara?"
Tara wanted to jump at the invitation, but she really didn't want to be a burden to someone on Christmas.
"Are you sure?"
"100%," Willow replied emphatically, "I...I want...I need to be around you."
Tara looked down shyly but Willow saw a huge grin on her face.
"I'm taking that as a yes," she continued cheerily, "Okay, how about I drop you home and you can shower and stuff, and I'll go home and shower at my place and I'll pick you up again in like an hour? And I'll call Mrs. Summers and everything so we know everything's fine with you coming over. But I know it will be, 'cause Mrs. Summers is the best."
The car pulled up outside the building that housed Tara's apartment and the brunette reached across the car for one of Willow's hands.
"So I'll see you very soon? Down here?"
Willow nodded with a smile.
"You know, If I wasn't gonna see you in an hour anyway, I'd probably try and send you a cute note so you'd want to hang out with me again."
Tara giggled and looked at the redhead curiously.
"And what would this note say?"
Willow thought for a moment.
"Dear Tara, you made the worst day of my life into the best night I've ever had. I can't wait to spend more time with you. Sincerely, Willow."
Tara felt a huge grin fall on her face and moved her hand to cup the redhead's cheek. She let her touch linger for just a moment before leaning forwards and placing the barest hint of a kiss against Willow's forehead, before spinning in her seat and exiting the car.
Willow watched Tara leave and could feel the beaming smile break out on her face. The ball was in her court now. And she was damn well going to score the winning basket.
She knew it was fast but she knew what she felt and she was pretty damn sure that Tara was feeling the exact same way. Besides – Christmas was a time for magic, wasn't it? And Tara was most certainly magical.
Before she even realised she was doing it, she had opened the car door and was running towards Tara, spinning her around in place before she entered her building and crushing their lips together. Tara, rather than being surprised, grabbed the redhead's cheeks and deepened the kiss, pouring everything she had into it.
Because she'd felt it too. She'd felt everything.
Time seemed to stop, neither girl caring about their surroundings or anything but each other. Eventually their lips began to slow as their lungs burned with the need for oxygen and Willow gently massaged the back of Tara's neck before speaking in a low, playful but genuine whisper.
"PS, I love you."