Chapter 1

Tara gazed across the crowded room at the object of her desire. She had been waiting for this day to arrive but now that it was here she didn't know what to do. Once she started down that road things would never be the same again and she liked things as they were too but she wanted something more.

She was surrounded in her life by friends, good friends, who were really more like family. There was Xander, the goofball, yet caring and protective like a big brother that she wished she'd had growing up. There was Willow, her ex-girlfriend/sister Wiccan. It really was too bad that they couldn't work things out between them after Willow had gotten over her magic addiction. Then there was Buffy and Anya, they were like the siblings that everyone has. They tease you sometimes and say things that are outright mean, whether they mean to or not but always have your back no matter what.

Finally there was Dawn, the birthday girl. She, like Tara, was part of the group along with the others. Yet it always seemed like there were just some things that the two of them didn't fit into.

It really went all the way back to when Tara had first met Willow. Will had tried to let Tara in and make her feel like part of the group. And the others were more than generous in welcoming her, a stranger into their world.

But somehow Tara always found herself sitting off away from the group talking with Dawn, who was deemed too young for involvement with the Scooby's at the time or helping her study. The two girls quickly became great friends seeing each other often as equals despite their difference in age.

Dawn was wise beyond her years. She'd had to grow up fast after her mom died. And with her sister being the Slayer there was no shortage of bad guys and dangers to be dealt with. Eventually both she and Tara were fully accepted Scooby Gang members.

Tara was useful for her magic since Willow tried to abstain from using it for fear of falling back into her addiction and abuse of dark magic. And Dawn was like a junior Watcher who was already able to translate ancient Samarian text at just fifteen.

Then there was Dawn's sophomore year of high school, the battle with the First Evil and the potential Slayers flooding the town. She'd had to sit on the sidelines and watch as others took center stage and gained the attention of her sister, who was supposed to be there for her when their mom passed away. No doubt hard for a fifteen year old but she'd held back her emotions and opinions like an adult. Choosing to focus on helping with as much as she could, whether that was studying their enemies or helping train the new arrivals.

She had proven herself as a great warrior in battle as well guarding one of the doorways with Xander in the last battle with The First and the Turok-Han vampires, killing several herself.

'Yes,' Tara thought to herself, 'I should tell her. But if she doesn't feel the same way I risk our friendship. Goddess dammit! Why does love have to be so damned complicated?' Tara watched in her usual shy silence as everyone celebrated, unable to deny the anxiousness and fear she felt tying knots in her stomach.

Dawn looked across the room enjoying her party and caught Tara staring at her, as per usual, Dawn knew that the blonde wiccan had the hots for her. And with that knowledge had teasingly flirted with her over the last few years. She knew it was somewhat mean but she just couldn't help it.

She found herself staring back at Tara, caught in the witches beautiful blue eyes. She couldn't deny that she had feelings for the older woman. Feelings that she had held in check for years. She came back to reality then smiled and winked at the woman on the other side of the room.

The shy witch instantly blushed and quickly turned her gaze toward the floor, glancing up now and again. How was she even going to start this conversation? 'Hey, Dawn now that you're 18 and I won't get arrested wanna go out sometime?' She needed to talk to Dawn but didn't want the conversation to give the girl the wiggins. 'Tonight isn't the right time,' she said to herself, 'looks like it'll be just me and my good friend the cold shower again.'

"What's up Tara-bear? You enjoying the party?" Tara jumped a little; she hadn't noticed Xander walk up behind her.

"Oh, yeah it's great." The witch replied to the one eyed man. "I c-can't believe little Dawn is grown up. Three years g-goes by fast."

"Yes. Yes it does." Xander said somewhat to himself. He knew something was coming between Tara and Dawn. He'd seen it all before when Tara had first started coming around, the way she and Willow would look at each other, their body language. He knew it before Will did and he could see it now between these two girls. It amazed him sometimes, the things he noticed from the outside that seemed obvious and yet all parties involved remained either oblivious or denied the truth.

It was times like this that he enjoyed his "gift" he would sometimes subtly involve himself, but never so anyone would know. Mostly he'd just stand on the sidelines and enjoy the show.

"Well have fun." He said as he walked away and Tara could've sworn she heard him add, "Take a chance shy girl, you might be surprised." She stared after him as he lost himself in the crowd and thought to herself, "how could he possibly…" She shook her head knowing the answer before she finished the question. "There's no secrets with you are there, Xander?" she mumbled to the air.

Willow walked up and sat next to her friend. "Hi Tara, can you believe our little Dawnie is all grown up?"

"Hi Will, I know. Time goes by so f-fast doesn't it?" was Tara's reply.

"What were you and Xanman talking about?"

"Nothing much, he just c-came over to say 'hi'."

"Yeah he's become a man of few words ever since Caleb took his eye…" Willow trailed off, both of them remembering that dreadful battle where Caleb had effortlessly killed two potentials and then grabbed Xander "the one who sees everything" and gouged out his left eye. Spike tackled Caleb a second too late, though he'd probably saved Xanders life (likely the reason he didn't get angry anymore when talking about the bleach blonde vamp).

"Yeah that was a b-b-bad day. He seems like he d-does alright though. I m-mean he runs the whole Slayer organization now, so at least he's keeping busy in the f-f-fight against evil." Tara said breaking the silence. "Didn't I hear something about you starting a c-coven in Portland?"

Willow looked at her friend somewhat in amazement, "Wow! I'm kinda surprised you know about that! We haven't been officially recognized by the Witch's Council yet. However, Zeera herself told me that we should receive our welcoming soon. So I'd been trying to keep it all on the dl till I knew for sure. How did you find out?"

"Oh, well I w-was m-m-meditating and r-reached out t-t-to see who was out there to t-talk to and I sensed Zeera. S-so I asked about y-y-you. I'm s-s-sorry if I learned something I w-w-wasn't supposed t-to." The blonde witch answered nervously. A little worried she'd maybe upset her friend by finding this out, so her stutter was more pronounced.

"It's okay. I was actually going to tell you about it today. I think we're gonna throw a party once we are official. I hope you can come and I'll let you know the details as we get them hashed out. Oh, I should probably tell the others. I'll see you later Tara. It was good to talk to you."

"You too."

Meanwhile during Tara's conversation with Willow people had begun to file past Dawn giving her their final "happy birthdays". She smiled and thanked each one of them as they left. Leaving her, Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Tara. Just as she was about to close the door she heard a familiar voice ask, "Aren't you going to invite us in, Lil Bit?" She couldn't believe it. Standing before her was Spike, Angel, Giles, Cordelia, and even Oz along with a woman who Dawn could only assume was his wife, Bayamara, holding their new baby.

"Oh my gosh, Guys! I can't believe you came! Please come in!" She said and as they filed in, the others stared in momentary surprise. Then everyone began talking at once with the "good to see you's" and the "I missed you's" and the "nice to meet you's". And thus began an unplanned second party.

Later on when everyone had calmed down somewhat and all were reminiscing over past times (mostly their various battles with evil and averting apocalypses). Dawn currently holding Oz's son Kelden said, "I still can't believe you guys are all here right now."

"Of course, we wouldn't miss this." Came the fervent reply.

"Yeah Oz wouldn't quit talking until we were at the airport once he'd heard your birthday was coming." Bayamara responded.

Everyone stared in disbelief at the idea that Oz would say more than one sentence at any given time. Then the room exploded into laughter. The group continued talking through the night and on into the morning, even Oz and Tara chiming in now and then.

When the sunlight began to peek through the windows they finally realized just how late it really was. Spike and Angel, at the offer of Buffy, had decided to stay till nightfall. Giles informed them all, sadly, that he had to head back to England right away.

"Are you sure you can't stay for a few days?" asked Buffy hopefully.

"I wish I could but I had to leave Faith in charge of my shop. And it's not that I don't trust her, it's just that when it comes to anything other than fighting she's rather…how shall I say it?...Clumsy." answered the Brit, "Oh yes," he added turning to Dawn and handing her an envelope, "we didn't know what to get you so this is from me and Faith. Happy birthday and hopefully it won't be so long till I see you next." And with that he said his goodbyes and took his leave. Leaving Dawn holding a birthday card signed by both him and Faith.

Oz and Bayamara said that they'd be staying at a nearby hotel in town for a few days before heading back to Tibet. Buffy began assigning people places to catch up on some much needed sleep.

Dawn grabbed the shy blonde witch by the hand dragging her upstairs, "Come on Tara you can sleep in my room." Leaving the others to their own devices.

The birthday girl and her friend sat on her bed talking and just avoiding sleep in general. "So did you enjoy your birthday?" Tara asked, managing to not stutter.

"Yeah I really did. It was a great party. And I was so excited when I saw the others waiting for me on the porch. Did you have anything to do with that?"

Tara looked up with a slight smile on her face, "Yes, W-Willow and I coordinated and g-got word to everyone. We knew it w-would make you really happy t-t-to see everybody."

Dawn hugged Tara tightly "Thank you so much that was a great gift! I guess I'll have to thank Willow tomorrow."

She laid her head on Tara's shoulder with a contented sigh. Today had been wonderful. One of the best days of her life up to this point and she could sense that Tara had been waiting to talk to her all day. She sat back up saying, "Ok Tara I know you've been watching me all day, what's on your mind?"

Tara stiffened a bit at Dawn's question. She turned to look at the…not girl…the young woman, whom she loved dearly. She looked down at her hands quietly thinking for what seemed like an eternity. She'd actually planned on waiting a few more days, mainly to try and practice what she wanted to say.

She decided to try the straightforward approach, "You remember w-when I took you out for m-m-movies and milkshakes, and you asked me if Willow and I were ever g-g-going to g-get back together?"

Dawn just nods.

"Then when we c-came b-b-back and no one was home. So we sat on the couch watching TV, and you f-fell asleep with your head on m-my lap. Well I w-w-watched you sleep for quite a while b-before falling asleep myself. It was that n-night that I r-realized I would never get back t-t-together with Willow."

"What are you trying to say, Tara? I don't know what you mean."

"That was the night I fell in love with you!" Tara nearly shouted and then worried how Dawn would react to that. She began rambling, "I-I mean…well yeah I fell in love with you…a-and I'm still i-in love with you…I've been w-w-waiting so long t-to t-tell you b-b-but I've always been worried that you w-w-wouldn't feel the same." Tara continued, feeling tears of fear of the unknown starting to well up in her eyes. "Even n-now I d-don't know how you're gonna react, b-b-but I had to t-t-tell you. I just c-c-couldn't hold it in any more…"

Before she could say another word, Dawn reached out and lifted the witch's chin kissing her. It was a long, slow, gentle kiss. Tara's eyes opened wide in surprise then closed again as she enjoyed the taste of Dawn's amazing kiss.

A short time later Tara pulled away and said with desire obvious in her eyes, "Are you sure about this D-D-Dawn? Cause I d-don't want to just have an amazing n-night or two, I w-w-want the dating and the romance too. I d-don't want to be your one n-night experiment." Tara turned her face toward the floor again, expecting an answer she really didn't want to hear and not wanting Dawn to see the fear in her eyes.

"Tara." Answered Dawn in a soothing and caring voice. "My dear sweet Tara. If that's your way of asking me out then you get an enthusiastic yes! And to answer your question, yes I'm sure. I know how I feel about you. I've loved you since before you and Willow were officially dating. Remember that day the gang went to the magic shop and they found the dead guy? They almost literally carried me out of the building. I think that was your first official Scooby Gang outing too. Anyway you sat on the curb next to me and talked with me like I was an adult. You were my first girl crush."

Dawn reached out to take Tara's hands in her own and continued. "Now, back then I didn't know if I was straight or gay, or bi, I was crushing on you, Xander, and Justin Timberlake. I do know that in Xander's case the crush went away but I have nearly the same love for him as I do for Buffy. However, in your case, my crush just kept growing. You don't know how hard it was for me to act like I wanted you and Willow to get back together." She leaned in and kissed the still surprised woman on the cheek. "So if you want to take things slow and make sure it's right then I understand. I've waited a few years, I can wait another week or so."

Tara looked up smiling widely with an icy fire burning in her blue eyes as tears of joy rolled down her face. "H-H-How about dinner a-and a movie on F-Friday?" She asked still nervous for some reason.

"I would love that." Replied Dawn. "Now we should get some sleep."

They curled up embracing each other tightly under the covers of Dawn's bed. As they were drifting off, they could've swore they heard Xander chuckle and say, "Well it's about damn time, you two."