Fred should have finished gathering the books and ingredients Wes needed and been on the road back to LA hours ago, but it
was nice here. Sunnydale might be an aggressively cheerful cover for a entrance to Hell, but for someone taking her first
solo drive out of the city in five years, it was perfect. There were no impossible babies, no demonically possessed friends.
It couldn't really hurt anything to spend a few extra hours there.
She gave in to a quiet longing that she pushed aside in LA and walked to the university. Taking a seat at a little cafe near
the quad, she watched the students come and go and indulged in feeling wistful. She remembered being one of those kids, carrying
books and worrying about midterms. It was probably the happiest she'd ever been, immersed in learning for learning's sake
instead of frantically putting pieces together to save humanity or herself...
"Miss Burkle? Um, Fred?"
She looked up, startled, and saw the girl who had helped her at the magic shop, when the Rupert Giles Fred had been sent to
see proved nowhere to be found and the woman behind the counter declared herself less than interested in Fred's problems.
This girl had known where everything was, and acceptable substitutes for the supplies that were missing. What was her name?
Something short, simple, pretty...
"Tara!" she blurted. "Hi!"
"Hi." Tara ran her hand through her hair, pushing it back from her face. She held up a book with the other hand, a typical
magic-text book bound in leather and strange symbols. "Mr. Giles came back and looked at your list, and it turns out I gave
you the wrong book. He needs the, um, blue one back. Kind of bad." She smiled, shy and crooked. Pretty. "Those Etruscan
titles, you know."
"They all look alike," Fred agreed, fishing the blue text out of her bag. "Here you go."
Tara handed over the proper text and hesitated for a moment, standing by the table and looking down at it until Fred realized
she was missing a social cue again. "Oh! You can sit down, if you want. I just thought you had to take the book back."
"I have class in half an hour," Tara said, setting her purse on the table and glancing over her shoulder at the counter.
"I'll take it back to Mr. Giles later. Are you hungry?"
Fred blinked. "More or less always."
"You sound like Xander," Tara laughed. "A friend of mine...well, a friend of my girl- my ex- my- " She looked down at the
book again, her hair falling forward over her face. "It's sort of complicated right now."
"Ice cream." Tara glanced up, questioning, and Fred shrugged. "Complicated things are made better by ice cream. Or at least,
they're easier to ignore when you have it."
"That makes sense," Tara said, smiling again. "What flavor?"
"Surprise me." Fred tucked the new book in her bag and folded her hands on the table, looking out at the grass and flowers
and students basking in the sun. No vampires here, not right now. Pretty.
"Here you go." Tara reappeared, a small dish in each hand. Fred glanced into hers and smiled.
"Coffee." Tara sat down and rummaged through her bookbag, setting some notebooks on the table. "Is that okay?"
"Even better than chocolate," Fred assured her, taking a spoonful and closing her eyes to savor the flavor spreading on her
"I like it," Tara said, smiling down at the table again. "It's a little bit bitter, instead of all sweet."
Fred pointed her spoon at the notebook. " What class do you have?"
"Bioethics." Tara took a bite of her ice cream. " I'm a bio major, going for environmental law." There was just an edge
of defensiveness in her voice, like she expected Fred to say something, but Fred just nodded and took another bite.
"Sorry," Tara said, blushing. " Most people expect philosophy or women's studies or something. They don't think a witch can
have a science brain."
Fred shook her head. "Judging books by their covers has got me in trouble before."
Tara looked down at her notebook. "Um, Fred, if you don't want me butting in, just say so, but...have you experienced a lot
of stress recently?"
"You could say that." Fred stirred the last of her ice cream into soup. "I'm just coming off a really good stretch of crazy."
"Oh, I've been there." They exchanged wry half-smiles. "Um, but what I was going to say was...your aura's kind of fragmented.
"Is that bad?" Hopefully it wouldn't make her a target for soul-stealing demons or anything. That was the last thing Angel
needed on his mind right now.
"Well, it's not great." Tara frowned at the last spoonful of ice cream in her dish. "I could...if you want...there's, um,
a spell I could do. To smooth it out."
"Would it hurt?"
"No!" Tara shook her head quickly and dropped her spoon. "No. In fact, you'll probably feel better, after. Calmer, more,
Fred looked out at the quad. Calm would be nice. Centered would be nice. "Don't you have to go to class?"
Tara shrugged. "I can get it from the book."
Tara had a tiny apartment, and it was clear she hadn't been there long. Her living situation was also complicated, she said,
making a face. Fred didn't question.
Tara lit a few candles and told Fred to relax. Fred sat on the couch, resisting the urge to curl in the corner, and watched
Tara rummage through boxes. She was humming to herself, something soft and aimless that gradually lulled Fred to sleep.
Or not quite to sleep; the shadowy world just before sleep, where things were blurry and slow and safe. She could still see
the candles there, and a softly glowing outline that she recognized as Tara. The music continued and the air smelled nice.
Tara must have lit incense, the analytical part of her mind whispered, but that part was the sleepiest, and easy to ignore.
Tara cast some powder over Fred and spoke softly. Fred felt herself shiver a little, but she wasn't scared or cold. It was
more like she was shaking things back into place. Snapping the pieces together, making herself whole again.
It was like she'd been hobbled since she let Pylea, taking half-steps, and now she could run. Like she'd been in a smoky
room, and now she could breathe.
She opened her eyes and saw Tara kneeling next to the couch, looking down at her and smiling. Tara was stroking her hair
and asking a question that Fred couldn't quite understand. She wasn't really listening- she was still seeing and thinking
the way she had in the shadow-world, and she was noticing something about Tara she hadn't seen before.
Tara had magic in her hands.
Not like Wesley's magic, a skill he learned from a book and used as a tool when needed. Tara's magic was a part of her, soul-deep,
always there. It filled her. She glowed. It was stranger than Wesley's way, but also more comforting. It was more like
the way Fred imagined magic when she was a little girl.
She reached up and touched Tara's face, wishing she had that light in her, wondering how it felt. Tara's hands were still
touching her hair, and they were warm. Fred smiled up at Tara, who smiled back, and then leaned down and kissed her.
Her lips were warm too, and gentle, and full of magic. Fred imagined it running through her skin and filling her up wtih
music and glitter and light. Always-magic, peaceful and sure. Less real than the book-magic, and more beautiful.
They kissed for a long moment, and then Tara pulled away. "How do you feel?" she asked quietly.
Fred thought for a moment. "Like myself." Like her old self. Not like a cow, or a crazy girl, or an unwanted hanger-on.
"Good." Tara smiled. "You, um, probably shouldn't operate heavy machinery for a few hours."
"I drove Gunn's truck. Very heavy." She sat up slowly and looked around the room. "Can I help you unpack, while my head
"Oh, you don't have to..." But Fred was already reaching for a box of books.
"Librarian instincts never die," she explained with an awkward smile. "Oh, Robinson Crusoe. For class or for pleasure?"
"Pleasure." Tara pushed her hair off her face again. "You've read it?"
"Not for ages." She looked at the cover wistfully. Pylea was short on literature as well as Mexican food. And none of the
other cows would have understood being called Friday.
"You can borrow it if you want." Tara blushed. "And maybe when you bring it back we could talk about it."
"You want me to bring it back myself? I can come visit again?" Fred looked up from the box with a hopeful smile.
"Do you want to?" Tara looked just as hopeful. "You can come up any time. I sort of have a pretty open social schedule right
Fred pictured her own calendar- hunt demons, research demons, babysit Connor, possibly get pancakes with Charles. Not exactly
intense obligations. "How about next Friday night?"
Tara smiled, slow and wide and beautiful. Magic.