CHAPTER RATING:PG-13 (will become NC-17 as the story progresses!)
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: The first part of the prequel to Hacker Confidential and Family Confidential - the college years!
SPOILERS:Perhaps minor references to the show or stealage of dialogue, but nothing that would spoil the series.
AUTHOR'S NOTE:I almost didn't make it, but just skirting in at the end of June! So, it's prequel time and as those familiar with Confidential!verse will know, there's a period of just over four years to cover coming up to the start of Hacker.
I'm not sure how I will ultimately cover this time, but it's likely not going to be in a direct manner, since holidays, birthdays etc. would probably get repetitive. What will probably happen is a mix of middle-length stories, short stories, and one-shots all contained within this one story thread, time-jumping around and showing their important moments.
I'm using the flashbacks I had in Hacker throughout the story, but I'll flesh them out a little so they may appear changed (though the actual content will stay the same). Oh and my standard disclaimer, this will be fluffy and mushy and cheesy and all those things, so if you like a bit of drama in your reading, my fics will never be for you.
I hope you'll stay along for this potentially disastrous but hopefully fun ride, and as always, thanks for reading :)
[Also, Boston College is the established setting, and I'll do my best to keep it as accurate as the internet will allow me, but certain things, like Tara doing a degree in Social Work, which isn't available there, will just need a little suspension of disbelief. Shouldn't take from the story too much:)]
GREAT BIG HONKIN' NOTE ADDED FEB '13
I've recently gone back and edited most of my fics to change Tara to what I believe is her rightful brunette. This took a long time, and none were anywhere near as long as this were almost 1200 'blondes' I would have had to manually change. Therefore, she remains blonde here. I plan on changing that in-series at a later date and hope it doesn't annoy anyone too much.
Tara walked across campus quickly, holding her books to her chest with one hand while the other grasped onto the large latte she was taking steady sips from. It was her weekly treat to get a take-out coffee and while she normally indulged herself on a weekend, she needed it that morning to try and wake up. She was rushing along the path on the way to her early-morning class, though the chilly air was helping more than the coffee in tricking her brain into functioning.
She had been living in Boston for two years, having moved from New York State when she graduated high school. She was half way through her bachelor's degree in social work and enjoyed her college life, certainly more than she ever had while in high school and living at 'home', but she still felt somewhat like an outsider in her surroundings.
She knew it was her own fault, never making an effort to join any college groups or meet anyone outside of her classes, but she sort of liked the isolation - people and social interaction had never been her strong suit. A lot of that was due to circumstance, but there was a large chunk that was just her too.
She wasn't overly shy and wasn't really opposed to having friends, but growing up, she hadn't been allowed to have friends over and so people at school had generally avoided her or picked on her for the clothes she wore or the way she talked, so she'd learned to like her own company.
Most of the human contact she received was from her family, which was fine up until she was ten and her mother died in a car accident. Then her father started drinking and started hitting her, so being alone – being away from him – was always the preferred option.
As well as that, she figured, if she focused on her studies, she could graduate to the full of her potential, make sure she got a job and never have to see her father again. Not that she'd ever go back there. She'd live on the streets before she willingly went back.
But on that particular Thursday morning, her thoughts were far from the life she escaped and were focused on the life she was working towards, which included attending her Sociological Statistics class. A class, which she determined with a quick glance down to her watch, she was definitely running late for.
She brought her coffee up to her mouth, intending to take a final sip before she had to take off running, but instead felt the shirt she was wearing covered in it. The warm liquid made it cling to her skin, but she didn't have a chance to process the uncomfortable sensation as something suddenly crashed against her front, causing her to stumble around.
Willow pushed her glasses up her nose to stop them from falling off as she scurried across the campus, intent on getting to the library as soon as it opened. She wanted first access to whatever books and resources were available for her independent study in her Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience class, and no amount of reason could convince her that she wouldn't if she arrived even a second late.
Much to the annoyance of her roommate, Becky, she was an early-riser, a quality she had kept on from high school when she'd get up early to hang out in the school library before school. She always preferred the wall-to-wall books than the surroundings of her own lonely bedroom.
Her parents had never been around, so she never had to explain her whereabouts to them. They only seemed to care about her academics, so when she'd applied for colleges, they'd been delighted when she'd been accepted into Harvard, MIT and Princeton.
Willow, however, had fallen in love with the Boston College campus when she had visited during the tour around the country her parents had sent her on to decide - though they didn't know about the particular detour she took until she announced that it was where she'd had taken a place in.
The fact that it was as far away from her parents as possible was a bonus in her eyes; they may rarely have been around, but the time they did spend together was full of ridicule and belittling on their part - made worse by the fact that they, or her mother at least, seemed to deem that as 'affection'. Her father was warmer, but deferred to his wife enough that it didn't make a difference to Willow's upbringing.
She was also glad she'd been offered a full scholarship as her coming out hadn't gone down well and she'd been effectively cut-off until she 'renounced her ways', something she was never going to do.
Like a certain other person who happened to be on the same route as her that day, her thoughts too were far from what she'd left and on where she was going – the library. Which she had to get to. Quick.
She pulled out her cell phone to check the time but before she could even glance at the screen she found herself colliding with something, or rather someone, and promptly fell on her butt. The notebooks and collection of pens in her possession flew everywhere and her glasses slipped right down her nose again, though her instinct was to push them right back up, so luckily they weren't caught in the ambush.
She shook her head to get her bearings, then looked up, instantly going into panic mode when she saw she had walked straight into a girl – an absolutely gorgeous girl, she couldn't help but think as she jumped up and pulled a pack of tissues from her pocket.
"Oh god, I am so sorry, I am so, so sorry, are you okay? Clearly you're not okay, some lunatic just spilled coffee all over your pretty shirt," Willow said, barely taking breaths between words as she dabbed at the blonde's t-shirt with her tissues, suddenly realizing what she was doing, "And I really shouldn't be touching you like this, I'm so sorry, I'll pay for dry-cleaning and get you a new coffee, as many coffees as you like and, and a muffin or whatever baked goodness you desire."
Tara knew she should be concerned about the slowly-diminishing burning sensation of the coffee on her chest. She knew she should be concerned about her ruined shirt, or the fact that she would definitely be late for her class, or that a strange woman was touching very close to her breasts. But she couldn't quite bring herself to care because at that moment she looking into the most beautiful face with the greenest eyes she had ever seen.
Those green eyes suddenly locked with hers and Willow inhaled softly, cutting off the babble.
Both felt like something had just changed for them, that something special had somehow happened.
"I'm, I'm Willow by the way. Willow Rosenberg," Willow squeaked out after a minute, "I'm so sorry about your shirt."
"It's okay," Tara replied, feeling her heart pounding in her chest, and the most sociable she ever had in her life - she just had to talk to this girl, "It'll wash out. And I'm Tara Maclay. It's nice to meet you."
Tara extended her free hand – the one that had been holding her coffee – and gulped when she felt a spark jolt through her as Willow took her hand and shook it firmly. A wave of confidence washed over her.
"Yes!" Willow replied, a little too overzealously, making her blush, "I mean, yes, coffee, I spilled your coffee so I'll buy you coffee. Um, I'm...I'm free now?"
Forgotten was all the morning of research she'd planned, all the notes she had been going to look over, the paper as a whole - gone from her mind. All she knew was that the most beautiful girl she'd even seen was standing in front of her and seemed willing to spend time with her – it was the first time in her life she'd ever felt something was more important than homework.
Tara too had let her class slip from her mind. A quiet thought pushed its way forward that she was now very late, she honestly couldn't care. Right then it didn't matter if she never attended a class again – there was no way she was going to pass up the opportunity to hang out with this Willow.
That's the prettiest name I've ever heard.
"I-I'm free too," she managed to respond, offering a nervous but still adorably crooked smile.
Willow had to make a conscious effort not to let out a loud squeal and pointed behind herself with her thumb.
"The campus coffee shop is...you know, right around the corner."
"Yeah, I know," Tara replied easily, a remarkable feat given she only words she'd spoken to anyone in the past week was to give her coffee order, "That's where I got my coffee."
Willow blushed again, but it was from more than just embarrassment. It was the oddest feeling she'd ever experienced, but she swore she felt her heart lift when Tara smiled at her.
"Do you wanna...?"
Tara nodded in agreement and they started in the direction of the coffee shop. It was a short two minute walk around the corner, and while the trip was silent, it was also littered with sneaky glances until they arrived at the building, the place bustling with students looking for an early morning caffeine-fix.
Willow spotted a free circular table with a stool either side near the left-hand side window and quickly walked over, putting her books on the table, thus claiming it. Tara followed her and sat on the stool opposite, letting her own books rest beside the other ones as Willow motioned towards the counter.
"Triple Latte with vanilla syrup, right?"
Tara's eyebrows shot up and Willow inhaled sharply, her hands moving in front of her to gesture wildly.
"I'm not like a really weird creepy stalker person or anything, I just read the little letters on your coffee cup when I spilled it and I'm like an expert on all things coffee. Coffee and computers, those are my things. My roommate says she thinks I'm gonna become a millionaire 'cause I'll own some big software company and I'll invest in coffee industries 'cause I could single-handedly keep the trade alive, but I don't really think that's true, I mean, I drink a lot, but you'd need to drink a lot of coffee to make yourself rich off an investment and you'd have to spend all the money on the coffee you were drinking anyway, so you probably wouldn't make anything at all, plus I really don't want to own a company, I know nothing about business and I don't think I'd do well in meetings 'cause when I get nervous I babble, kinda like I am right now, and I'd look silly and nobody would think I was good for representing the company and there'd be a mutiny and I'd be tossed out and lose all my money and all I'd have left would be the stocks in coffee and they're really probably no use to anyone..."
Willow trailed off and looked down dejectedly, clasping her hands together in front of her stomach.
Great. If she wasn't already completely freaked out she will be now.
Tara stared for a moment before giving that half-smile again and a quiet, but warm and full laugh.
"You have very impressive breathing skills."
Willow looked up and after hiding a gasp when she felt that heart flutter again, smiled too.
That wasn't a mocking laugh! I heard Cordelia's for so many years, I know laughs and that was not mocking!
"I also have impressive 'making-an-ass-outta-yourself' skills," she replied, cheeks flushing and hands waving twitching nervously, but she was still smiling, "As you've just witnessed."
"I don't think you made an ass out of yourself," Tara replied with a sure shake of her head, "I think you made yourself looked super cute."
Both girls blushed bright red but Willow's smile got impossibly wide.
"Was that the right coffee order?" she asked after a moment, swinging her still clasped hands in front of her.
Tara nodded and reached into her pocket for her wallet, thinking she'd just have to make her budget stretch this week, but Willow started gesturing with her hands again.
"No, no way, I spilled yours, remember? I'll, um, I'll be back in one sec."
Willow rushed off and joined the queue for coffee, her hand moving to cover her hand in disbelief.
No way am I about to buy coffee for the most gorgeous woman in the world. Is this a date? No, not a chance. A date requires asking...except I kinda did ask...but not for a date...could I ask her for a date? I just met her. What's the etiquette? What are the rules? I need to ask Becky. Would she even want to date me? She said I was cute...probably just being polite. God, I made an ass of myself, I don't care what she says. Stupid, Willow, stupid, stupid, stupid.
"Excuse me...ma'am...ma'am...look, do you want some coffee or not?!"
Willow was pulled from her self-deprecating thoughts by the sound of the exasperated man behind the counter snapping his fingers in her face and finally registered his words and the fact she'd reached the top of the queue.
"Uh, yeah..." she said, blinking a couple of times to gain her bearings, "Vanilla Triple Latte and a Mocha. And, um, a muffin."
The server looked at her, thoroughly annoyed.
Willow scowled at the man, just to show her disdain for not getting 'service with a smile' before quickly glancing over her shoulder at where Tara was sitting, calmly looking out the window. Willow felt her lips curl into a smile just at the sight of the other girl until she noticed a movement out of the corner of her eye and jerked her head back around. She narrowed her eyes at the server whose hand was raised and fingers positioned as if he was about to snap them again.
"If you snap your fingers at me one more time, your manager will be getting a very strongly worded letter, okay? And trust me, I've very good with words. Give me one of each."
The man looked suitably chastised and nodded, rushing off to put four different types of muffins into a small white paper bag and handed it over the counter.
"Thank you," Willow said with only a small hint of sarcasm.
She retrieved her wallet, giving the man a bill and taking the change back, pocketing it before the coffee cups were passed to her. She pondered how she was going to carry everything for a moment before taking the folded top of the paper bag between her teeth and holding one of the Styrofoam cups in each hand. She made her way back to the table, placing Tara's cup in front of her and took a hold of the bag, putting it between them as she swung herself onto her stool and smiled at her coffee companion.
"Sorry that took so long, the barista was all moody," she said before tearing the bag along the side so the muffins were revealed, "Um, I got muffins. I wasn't sure which you liked so I got one of each. There's, um...chocolate chip, blueberry, poppy-seed and...I think this is apple cinnamon."
"You didn't have to do that," Tara smiled, holding her coffee between both of her hands to warm them, "I like blueberry."
"Me too!" Willow replied enthusiastically, before tacking on shyly, "We could...we could share, if you wanted..."
Tara nodded and they shared a coy glance for a moment before Willow reached out to pull a small piece from the blueberry muffin, popping it into her mouth.
"Yummy," she said with a nervous smile, and Tara gave a small laugh.
"Good?" she asked.
Willow swallowed the chunk in her mouth and nodded too.
They both reached towards the muffin at the same time, their fingers inadvertently brushing against each other in the process. The two jolted, both feeling their heartbeats quicken as a rush of fire and electricity shot through them. Their eyes met and they searched each other, both thinking the exact same thing.
Did she feel that?
They both looked away shyly before either got an answer from the other's eyes and they shared the muffin quietly until Willow broke the quiet by slipping her glasses off and folded them, leaving them on top of her pile of books.
"You don't need those all the time?"
Tara voice was tinged with curiosity but felt her mouth go dry as Willow looked up and even more vibrant green eyes came into focus, now unclouded by the frames. She quickly took a long gulp of her coffee as Willow just smiled.
"No, I only wear them if I know I'm gonna be reading or concentrating for long periods of time. I get headaches otherwise."
Tara nodded, then her brow creased in confusion.
"Then why were you wearing them this morning?" she asked but saw Willow's eyes widen and realised why, "You had plans this morning. I'm sorry, you really didn't have to buy me coffee."
"No, really, I wanted to," Willow hastened to reassure, "I was just gonna hang in the library 'cause I don't have any classes this morning and I had nothing better to do. But this counts as 'something better to do' so...yeah."
Tara smiled shyly again.
"Yeah," Willow nodded with a matching smile, "I mean...making new friends is nice...right?"
Tara nodded back but her eyes looked saddened for just a moment.
Friends. What were you expecting Tara? But she's right, friends would be nice. Friends would be very nice. Friends means I still get to look into those beautiful green eyes.
"Right. I'd like to have a friend," she eventually answered, "I haven't met many people since I came out here."
Willow shook her head in disbelief.
"That's not right. You're so nice, you must have lots of friends."
Tara gave a one-shouldered shrug. She didn't want to go into specifics of her lack of socialising pre-college, though she did feel some pride that she was holding a conversation well. She had to admit that Willow deserved a lot of that recognition - she was making it easy for them to just chat, a phenomenon she'd never understood too well but was thoroughly enjoying.
"Guess I'm just choosy," she replied eventually and saw Willow's smile falter, so quickly added, "I'd choose you."
Willow visibly brightened.
"To be your friend?"
To be my everything.
Tara blinked in surprise of her own thought and quickly drank some coffee to mask the look on her face.
"Definitely. You seem like great friend material."
"Well, great," Willow beamed, before giving a definitive nod, "So, friends...know things about each other, right? Like...your major?"
"Social work," Tara replied, settling into the conversation, "Sophomore."
"I'm a sophomore too," Willow responded happily, "But psychology."
Tara got a curious look on her face.
"Psychology? That's pretty different from computers."
Willow blushed that Tara had remembered any part of her inane babble from earlier.
"I figured I had machines down, so why not try and learn about the mind?" she replied with a laugh, "I don't really think I'll ever settle into a job as a psychologist or anything but...I like learning about like, behaviour and things. Why people do what they do. Computers are so simple, you give it a command and it does it, no questions asked. People...aren't. So it's interesting."
Tara had a look on her face between smitten and impressed.
"That certainly seems like a good reason to declare a major."
Willow was pleased, feeling oddly gratified that this person she'd known for a half hour approved of her decisions.
"So social work? Do you want to be a social worker?"
"Uh huh," Tara replied with a smile that held a tinge of sadness, "I want to help kids. You know that are...kids who need help."
Willow saw the sadness of Tara's smile reach her eyes and without thinking, reached across the table to entwine their fingers, giving her hand a comforting squeeze. She jerked her hand back almost straight away when she realised what she was doing and looked down at the lid of her coffee cup.
"That's good. Wanting to help. The kids will be lucky to have you."
"Um, thanks," Tara replied, staring down at her hand in awe for a moment at how wonderful it had felt to have Willow's there, before snapping back to attention, "T-that means a lot."
Willow continued to stare down at her coffee cup, worried she had managed to mess up her new friendship already before becoming aware of eyes staring at her and looked up to see Tara softly smiling. Happy that she still seemed interested in talking to her, she decided to continue her inquiries.
"So, we'd be around the same age, huh? I'm 19."
Tara smiled a little wider in relief for the same reason, happy they were still talking.
"I'm 20. I was 20 on January 1st. New Year's baby."
"Cool!" Willow exclaimed, bouncing a little in her seat, "I'm 20 in April. Um...showery baby?"
"As in April showers?" Tara asked, laughing when Willow gave a shy nod, "That's a good one."
Willow shook her head slightly.
"Most people think my jokes are stupid."
Tara was the one to shake her head this time.
"I think they're funny."
"Oh," Willow replied with a smile, "Well then you can be my official joke tester-outer."
"Okay," Tara nodded with a grin, "All future humorous idioms go through me."
Willow giggled again, loving the way Tara talked and phrased things, but her glee was short-lived when she noticed her glancing down at her watch.
"Do you have to go?" she asked, trying not to convey her disappointment.
"Yes," Tara replied, not even trying to hide her own disappointment, but she knew there was no way she could miss her second class, "I'm sorry. I have an exam. And I, um, need to run up to my dorm to get changed."
She opted not to tell Willow about missing her first class and would have been quite willing to forgo this one too if it wasn't for the test that was scheduled.
"Your shirt!" Willow exclaimed in response, hands covering her mouth, "I got coffee all over it, I'm so sorry, I forgot."
"Willow, it's fine," Tara replied with a genuine smile, "I'm sure it'll wash out."
Willow blushed when Tara said her name – she wasn't sure how or why, but it sounded different coming from her lips. Soft and sweet and almost…pretty.
"No, I said I'd get it dry-cleaned and I will," she replied quickly with a definitive shake of her head, "If, um...you could meet me tomorrow, wearing a new shirt obviously, and with that shirt and I can take it and get it dry-cleaned and then bring it back to you. I mean, it's my fault, it's not fair for you to have to go out of your way to go to a dry-cleaners."
And that would mean I get at least two more chances to see you. Please say yes, please say yes, please say yes, please say yes...
"Okay," Tara replied with a coy shyness, "If you insist."
"Great!" Willow replied, her smile stretching from ear-to-ear, "So tomorrow? To um, collect your shirt?"
"Sure," Tara nodded, eager to have a solid plan to see Willow again, "I just have one class in the morning."
"I'm free after two...so say, like, three?" Willow asked with keen enthusiasm, getting a nod in return, "Yes. Okay. Here? Outside?"
Tara downed the last of her coffee and stood up.
"I'll be here."
Willow beamed and nodded.
"Great. Wonderful. And, um, I'm really sorry again. About the coffee and everything."
Tara got a bashful smile on her face.
"I'd have a thousand coffees spilled over me if it meant I got to meet you," she replied softly before ducking her head in embarrassment and gathering her books, "Bye Willow."
Willow raised her hand in a wave and watched as Tara left the coffee shop and walked away. She kept an eye on her, definitely not noticing the way her hips swayed as she moved.
Nope. Not looking at her ass at all. Definitely don't see that sway...or those curves...
She blushed at her thoughts but allowed herself to have them until Tara was out of sight, then dropped her head onto her books, a dreamy smile on her face.
This is the start of something magical.