TITLE: The Santa Line

AUTHOR: Finey_McFine


DISCLAIMER: Willow, Tara and any other BtVS characters, as well as some random dialog, belong to Mutant Enemy.

SUMMARY: A chance meeting leads to a very big surprise as Willow recalls a distant childhood memory. Completely AU, with lot's of fluff and all the trapping of a classic feel good Holiday tale!

Author's Note: Hi All! I wrote this fic about two years ago for a challenge on another fan site and was one of the winners! So, I think you all will enjoy it as well, but the only way I'll know is if you tell me. So, please comment away!

The Santa Line

"Willow. Willow! Please look at me and pay attention to what I'm telling you." The woman said to her daughter in a stern voice. "I'm going to shop at Bergman's and I want you to stay right here in Toyland. Do you understand?"

"Yes Ma'am." The little girl replied to her mother.

"Now, let me see your watch." The little girl held up her wrist, donning a bright blue Scooby Doo watch. "Ok, I'll meet you right back in this very spot in exactly one hour."

"Ok Mom."

"Willow, I'm counting on you to be responsible. It's important for your personal growth that you learn to be responsible. When I was your age, my mother held me accountable for all sorts of things and I expect no less from you." The red haired woman lectured as she straightened her skirt. "Do you have your money?"

"Yes ma'am. Twenty dollars." The little girl said as she stared up at her mother.

"Very well then. Go ahead and I'll see you…"

"In one hour, right here." Willow said confidently, finishing her mother's sentence.

Her mother smiled at her turning on her heels and practically sprinting in the opposite direction.

The little redhead walked into the store, knowing that her mother would turn to make sure she didn't leave the store. Willow spent a few minutes milling around the front of the store before peeking out to make sure her mother was well out of sight.

When she was sure the coast was clear, she bolted out of the store and straight for the Santa line. It was quite long and the green-eyed little girl hoped and prayed that she would get through before her mother returned .

Each year the little girl begged her mother to allow her to visit Santa and each year she was met with a resounding 'NO.' It was always the same, 'Willow we're Jewish. We do not believe in the myth of Santa Claus and I refuse to perpetuate a lie. The entire myth is based on commercialism to trap parents into buying unnecessary items and spoil their children rotten.' Her mother was nothing if not logical, however, this did not deter Willow one bit. She was going to meet the big guy one way or another.

Willow had been in line for a minute or so when the little girl standing in line in front of her turned and stared at her intently, half hiding behind her mother's leg.

"Hi" Willow said.

"H-Hi" The little blonde girl said, shyly.

"This is my first time to visit with Santa. I hope the line goes fast 'cuz I don't have much time and I have a lot of questions for him. Like, I wanna know how he goes to all those houses in one night and how he knows who's naughty and nice. I mean what actually makes you naughty anyway? Is it something little like slipping a soft cube of butter in your Mom's chair when she's not looking and then she sits down and her butt gets all gooey? Or, or maybe wearing candy cane striped stockings to Synagogue. Yeah, Cuz that would really be naughty!" Willow's eyes were wide and took on a mischievous glint. She was momentarily lost in her naughty thoughts when she heard giggling.

"You're funny. I like th-the way you t-talk. Not like m-most kids I kn-know."

"Thanks! I'm only 8, but my Mom says that I can talk most anyone under a table and I've tried but they never actually end up under the table. They usually just get up and leave."

"I wouldn't leave, I like it…y-you just have a lot to s-say is all. I'm 9 years old and I've s-seen Santa every year of my life. How c-come this is only your first time?" The blue-eyed blonde asked.

"Well, you see my Mom would never let me, even though I asked tons of times. Every year I beg and beg and she always says, 'Give it a rest! Just let it be! NO!' I'm Jewish and we don't beli-" Willow caught herself at the last second, remembering that her Mom always told her never to say that to other kids. She said that it was important to respect their beliefs.

"Hey, are you hungry or thirsty? Cuz I have twenty bucks and I can spend it on whatever I want. I thought maybe we could get something at the Cinna Shack, it's right next to Krazy Kajun."

"Ok, but I'll have to a-ask my Mom first if I c-can go with you." The little blonde tugged on her Mom's shirt to get her attention. "Mom, can I go with her to get a snack at the Cinna Shack?" She asked, unbeknownst to her that her Mom had been listening in the entire time and chuckling at the cute exchange between the girls.

"Sure Sweetie, but please stay where I can see you." She answered with a knowing smile.

The two new friends scampered off, with Willow talking nonstop and the little blonde giggling and blushing. They decided to get one giant cinnamon roll to split and 2 sodas. After nearly dropping the roll and Willow spilling part of her soda, they parked themselves on a nearby bench to eat their snack.

"I l-like your hair," the blonde said. "It's so r-red and pretty. Can I touch it?"

"Sure." Willow replied, her face blushing bright as the other girl ran her fingers through the soft red tresses. "I like your eyes, they're so blue…just like the ocean." Willow proclaimed, causing the other girl to blush as well. "My eyes are green, my mom said they're sea green. Hey! You're eyes are like the ocean and mine are like the sea!"

"Isn't that kinda the same thing?"

"I dunno, maybe." The little redhead said replied shrugging her shoulders as she took another bite of her cinnamon pretzel.

"What g-grade are you in?"

"Third. What grade are you in?"

"Fourth. What s-school do you go to?"

"I go to Northridge Academy, it's a private school. My Mom says that my education is the most important thing and I need to be in a good school so I can get into a good college when I grow up. Not that your school isn't good or anything, it's just that my school has less kids and we do lots more work that the regular schools. My friend Xander goes to a regular school and he never has homework. I have tons, even on the weekends. What school do you go to?"

"I go to Riverside. How do you t-talk so fast and say all those w-words without losing your breath?"

"I dunno, I guess it just comes natural to me."

"Did you r-really do that to y-your Mom?" The older girl asked.

"Do what?"

"P-Put a cube of butter on her c-chair?"

Willow put her thumb in her mouth and began to chew on her fingernail."

"Maybe." The mischievous little redhead answered.

"Does that m-maybe spell y-e-s?"

No sooner had the blonde asked, than Willow leaned over and pulled up her pant leg to reveal her candy cane striped tights. She looked up at the blonde with a wicked little grin. "We're meeting my Dad at the Temple when we leave the mall. My Mom ALWAYS makes me change into a skirt for services and when I do, I'll have these on." Willow said proudly.

The older girl began to giggle and shake her head at her rebellious new friend. "Why do you do it when you know she'll b-be mad?"

"I dunno, just cuz." The little redhead said as she sipped her soda.

"Boy, if I e-ever did something l-like that my Dad would go nuts."

"My Dad never really gets mad at me. We play in the snow together. Do you like to read? What's your favorite book?"

"Yes and Harry Potter."

"Hey! Me too! I love Harry Potter! You're the only kid I know my age that has read one of his books." Willow said, beaming from ear to ear.

"I've actually r-read them all. I-I don't have many friends, s-so I just stay in with my Mom and read."

"How come?"

"Well, b-because I st-stutter and kids like t-to make fun of me." The blonde said sadly, dropping her head.

"That's not very nice. I would never make fun of you and if I heard other kids making fun of you, I'd deck 'em. Sometimes kids make fun of me too cuz I got all these freckles and red hair, but not Xander, he's my best friend. He used to be my boyfriend, but we broke up three years go on account of him stealing my Barbie doll. He comes over to my house a lot cuz his parents like to yell too much. When they get really mad at him they yell his whole name; Alexander Lavelle Harris!" The redhead exclaimed, scrunching her face for effect.

"Hey, how c-come you're Mom isn't w-with you?"

"Oh, she went shopping at another store and left me at the toy store."

"All alone?"

"Yep, she wants me to be responsible. I'm supposed to be at Toyland and not leave, but I really wanted to see Santa."

As if on cue, the girls heard the blonde's mother calling for them to return, as they were the next in line to see Santa Claus. They threw their trash in the wastebasket and returned to the line. Willow checked her watch and noticed that she only had about 10 more minutes before she was supposed to meet her Mom and started to become visibly nervous.

"W-What's wrong?"

"I only have a few more minutes before I'm supposed to meet my Mom and she'll KILL me if she finds out I left Toyland and double kill me if she finds out why I left!" Willow was now entering into a full scale panic and thought she could actually hear the second hand ticking away the time on her watch.

"It's my turn. W-Why don't you go ahead of me?" The blue-eyed girl suggested.

"What? Really? But you were before me and it wouldn't be fair."

"Well, how a-about we go together?" The blonde said shyly.

Willow's face broke out in a huge grin. "Really? Really? That would be awesome! Thank you! Thank you so much!" Willow exclaimed as she lunged forward and enveloped the blonde in a big hug.

Willow was still extremely nervous and her hands were shaking. The little blonde noticed and gently took one of Willow's hands in hers. She looked up at Willow and smiled sweetly…causing the little redhead to feel all warm and tingly. The girls approached Santa gingerly, hand in hand, each choosing a leg to sit on. Willow was awe struck and even though she had a million and two questions for the man, at that moment her mind was completely blank. He spoke to the blonde first and asked all the standard questions. He then turned to a befuddled Willow and asked her what she wanted for Christmas. Her mouth was hanging open and moving, but no sound came out. She finally choked out an, 'I'm Jewish' and Santa asked what she wanted for Hanukkah. All she managed to mumble was 'bike.' Santa then turned them to face the camera and a picture was taken. He then gave the girls each a candy cane and sent them on their way.

"W-What happened to all of your q-questions?" The blonde asked Willow.

"I don't know, I guess a cat took my tongue away or something." Willow said, still trying to recover for the Santa debacle.

The blonde began to giggle, "It's ok, a lot of kids get n-nervous."

The pictures were ready and Willow paid one of Santa's helpers five dollars. She glanced at her watch and noticed that she only had two minutes to spare.

"Oh my gosh! I have to go! It was nice meeting you, thanks for letting me see Santa with you, bye!" She shouted as she darted back towards Toyland and the spot in which he mother would soon occupy.

"Good-bye" The other little girl said and watched sadly as her friend disappeared into the crowd of busy holiday shoppers.

Then out of nowhere Willow reappeared, once again enveloping the blonde in a big hug, then she kissed her on the cheek, grinned widely and trotted off to meet her mother.

Willow arrived at the spot in which she was supposed to meet her mother and was relieved that she wasn't there yet. She held the picture in her hand and traced a small finger across the other little girl's face. Then, she carefully slid the picture into her inside coat pocket and waited for her mother to arrive.

"Will, Willow. Sweetie…are you there?" Tara said gently waving her free hand in front of her wife's face.

"Huh? Oh sorry Baby." The redhead apologized as she pushed the stroller forward. "Oh, look we're next! Yay!"

"What were you thinking about? You looked like you were a million miles away." Tara asked as she held their ten-month-old daughter gently swaying back and forth.

"Oh, well I practically was. Just thinking about something from my childhood. In fact it happened right here when-" Willow was cut off by an elf shouting 'NEXT!'

They approached Santa and Tara sat their daughter on his lap while Willow adjusted her velvety red holiday dress and planted a sweet kiss on her head. Both Willow and Tara became teary eyed as Santa tickled their little girl who giggled happily in his lap. A picture was taken of the little blue eyed redheaded baby by herself with Santa and then another with the addition of her parents. Tara picked up Emma while Willow paid for the pictures, purchasing the largest packages available.

After collecting their pictures and placing a sleepy Emma in her stroller, they made their way to the mall exit.

"Hey Tara, look! It's snowing!" Willow said excitedly.

"Well then, we'd better get going so we're not late getting to your parents house. I know how your mother gets when she has to wait." Tara said, glancing at Willow who was by then rolling her eyes.

"Ugh, how long do we have to stay?"

"Will…be nice. Your parents love Emms and it's the last night of Hanukkah. So after tonight you can take a break and you guys can go back to being casual acquaintances."

"Good, cuz all this 'quality time' together is really creeping me out."

They loaded everything up in their car and started out towards Willow's parent's house.

"Wow, look at all the snow! There must be a full inch already."

Willow's eyes were shinning and she had a huge grin plastered on her face. The redhead loved the snow and turned into a big kid at the first sign of it every year. She brought the car to a stop in the driveway, hopped out and promptly disappeared form Tara's view.

"Will, what are you doing?" Tara asked as she too exited the car. She walked around to Willow's side to find the redhead flat on her back making a snow angel. "You're a big goof you know that?"

Willow simply grinned at Tara and continued her work of art as Tara carefully extricated their daughter from her car seat.

"Sweetie, when you're done, can you please bring in the diaper bag and the stuff in the trunk?"

"Sure baby, I'll be done in a minute."

Once inside, Sheila took Emma immediately from Tara's arms and began the ritual goo goo gaa gaas as Tara took off her coat and got comfortable. She was then greeted with a warm embrace from Willow's father.

"Happy Hanukkah Ira."

"Happy Hanukkah Tara. Where's my daughter? Playing in the snow?" Ira laughed and Tara gave him a knowing smile just as Willow came through the door.

"Hi Mom, Hi Dad! Happy Hanukkah!" The redhead's mood made lighter with the arrival of the newly fallen snow. "Tara where's the camera? We need to get some shots of Emma with her first snow before it gets too dark!"

Tara rummaged through the diaper bag and finally came across the camera, handing it to Willow, who was bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet. Tara put her coat back on, took the baby from Sheila and followed her wife outside. They spent about 15 minutes taking pictures and then made their way back in. When Sheila announced that it was time to light the candles and eat dinner.

The next couple hours proceeded without incident and they now found themselves in the living room making small talk and drinking coffee with Sheila. Ira had previously excused himself to the family room so he could catch what was left of the football game. After Willow fed Emma, she conked out and Willow put her in the playpen they had set up in the study. At some point in the conversation Sheila had asked what they'd done earlier in the day and Tara had made the grave mistake of answering the question honestly.

"I can't believe that you are planning on lying to your only child!" She chided.

Tara noticed Willow stiffen and saw her eyes narrow, as if preparing for battle, so she reached over and took Willow's hand in hers. Tara hoped that the gesture would have a claming effect on her wife.

"Mother, please do not raise your voice to my wife." Willow said, a little more forcefully than she would have liked. "Look, it doesn't matter anyway, Emma's not even a year old yet and besides every kid needs something to believe in."

Sheila completely ignored Willow and shifted her gaze towards the blonde. "Tara dear, I want you to know that I'm not blaming you. I know this is all Willow's doing. Every year she drove me to near insanity insisting on visiting Santa at the mall, I'm surprised I made it through her childhood at all." She stated flatly.

"That makes two of us." Willow mumbled as Tara squeezed her hand and shot her a sideways glance. She was trying her best to avoid the traditional holiday squabble, that normally erupted at some point, between Willow and her mother.

Tara hated the bickering between her wife and mother-in-law and it made her extremely nervous. "Well, I-I went every year. My M-Mom took me for a v-visit every year and to the same S-Santa that we took Emms to today and…."

"WHAT!?" Willow suddenly exclaimed. "I-I…no, it can't be. It just can't be." She sputtered.

"Will, can't be what? What are you talking about Baby?" Tara questioned.

Willow sprung from the couch and bolted up the stairs, leaving Tara and Sheila bewildered.

"What was that all that about?" Sheila asked, as she heard all kinds of thudding and banging noises coming from up stairs.

"I have no idea, but I'd better go check on her."

"I'll go with you." Said a curious Sheila.

They arrived in the doorway of Willow's old childhood bedroom to find the redhead on the floor of her closet rummaging through a box tossing unwanted items everywhere.

"Willow, what in Gods name are you looking for?" Sheila asked.

"The picture. The picture of me and Santa from when I was 8 years old."

"What picture? I never allowed you to visit Santa when you were 8, let alone take a picture. Have you completely lost your mind?"

"You left me in Toyland to go shop at Bergman's and I went and got into the Santa line. I hadn't thought about it in years until…and I might add, who the hell leaves their 8yr old child alone in a busy mall anyway?" Willow stated, shooting a look of disgust towards her mother. Sheila responding by simply rolling her eyes at her daughter.

Then it hit Tara, like a bolt of lightening as she just stood, staring blankly and in complete shock.

"Willow?" Tara said calmly, "That was twenty years ago. It can't be…can it?"

Suddenly, all movement from within the closet ceased and Willow sat on the floor staring at an old faded photograph. She looked up at Tara and the tears were already streaming uncontrollably down her face. All she could do was nod. Tara moved forward, sidestepping everything that was thrown from the closet and offered a hand to Willow, pulling the redhead up from the floor. She gently took the photo from Willow and studied it intently.

"It was you," Tara said, now crying as well. "I can't believe it. All this time, we've been together almost ten years and we never put two and two together. That's what, that's what you were thinking about, while we were standing in line today. You never mentioned it before."

"Neither did you Tare," Willow said as she reached up and cupped Tara's cheek.

"What are you two crying about? Let me see that." Sheila asked as Tara blindly handed over the photograph. She was barely aware that Sheila was even still in the room.

"Oh my God! Ira, Ira! You're never going to believe this!" Sheila exclaimed as she exited the room to fill her husband in on what all the ruckus was about.

"Tara, I wanted to find you, but we never told each other our names a-and I went back a few times hoping that I would run into you but I never did." Willow choked out between tears. She was now cupping both of Tara's cheeks and wiping the blonde's tears with her thumbs. "Then the years went by and I never forgot but-"

"I know, it's ok, it's ok Sweetie. We were kids and we met once for an hour. I…I never forgot you either, you were always right here." Tara said as she took Willow's hand and placed it on her heart.

The women leaned in and their lips came together, as if it was their first kiss all over again; slow and soft and filled with love. They finally pulled apart and rested their foreheads together.

"I'll always find you Will, always." Tara said, as she ran her hands across Willow's shoulders.

"I love you Tare. God, I love you so much." Willow sobbed as she pulled her wife into a tight embrace.

"I love you too, so very much. Merry Christmas my sweet Willow."

"Merry Christmas Baby."