A loud, startled gasp, followed by a forced cough and stifled moan, ruptured the silence at the table.
All eyes turned to an unusually crimson Willow.
"Are you okay, Will?" Xander's curious eyes focused on his friend. Looks of concern showed on the faces of everyone, except Tara, whose eyes held an amused glint.
"Hot! It's hot." The redhead gestured toward her soup and raised another spoonful to her mouth, trying desperately not to give off any signals about the real reason... or the hand on her left thigh.
"Are you sure, Sweetie?" Tara asked and smiled as she continued exploring her own little Willow-world. Willow nodded fiercely when the circles on her leg grew larger. The blonde shrugged at the other members of the table, glad that nobody noticed that her other arm had disappeared under the tablecloth.
When the coast was clear again, Willow flashed pleading eyes at her partner. But those eyes also showed a hint of arousal in them, which prompted Tara to continue maneuvering up the redhead's leg.
With an innocent half-grin, the blonde collected bits of suede material between the ends of her fingers, and then used her palm to soothe over the creases once she released it. Her hand strayed higher. Now, wait for it, Tara thought. On schedule, Willow choked back the warm liquid as she felt long fingers gently squeeze the very top of her thigh.
"Maybe you should order something else, Willow," Buffy frowned from across the table.
"Yeah, 'cause you're obviously having a hard time with that soup," Anya said as she finished gnawing on her bread stick. "Do you need a straw?" She grabbed the plastic straw from her glass and flung the end toward Willow. Little sprinkles of soda hit Tara and flew across to Willow's chin.
"I'm... I'm fine," Willow wiped her face as she cleared her throat, "I'll just start on the salmon, now."
"Good choice." Faith smiled, a little cautious of Willow as the redhead shifted in her seat. The brunette was sitting beside her and didn't want to get a lap full of hot soup if Willow became spastic.
Once again, everyone's eyes drifted back to their plates, except Willow's, whose gaze was fixed firmly on Tara. The blonde felt the emerald stare as she focused on her pasta, and decided to tease her lover by licking a speckle of cream from the corner of her lip. Willow's foot nervously tapped the floor, sending vibrations into Tara's skirt-clad leg. Soft rustles were barely heard from the table as Tara crossed her legs, allowing her left ankle to briefly connect with Willow's anxious body.
Willow smiled to herself. If Tara wanted to tease her, so be it, fortunately for her, she wasn't above a little payback. Cutting away a piece of salmon with her fork, butter dripped from the pink flesh as Willow suspended the fork an inch away from her lips, smiling when Tara glanced up. Light lemon drops splashed onto the plate, and a single, yellow tear clung to the edge of the salmon. Knowing that Tara was watching, the redhead's tongue curled from her mouth and slowly flicked the tiny bead, repeatedly swiping over the spot to make sure she got it all.
Tara's mouth fell slightly open, and then widened when Willow finally slipped the fork in, letting the juice coat her bottom lip. Adding insult to injury, her girlfriend moaned at she pulled the fork from her mouth.
"How's the salmon, Will? Is it good?" Buffy's question momentarily brought the blonde back to her surroundings.
"Delicious." The darkened arousal in her eyes was lost to all but Tara. The blonde cleared her throat and took a large gulp from her water, to moisten her dry mouth. Happy with herself, Willow grinned and continued eating.
Tara's hand clinched the napkin on her lap, before she suddenly shucked it onto the floor slightly behind Willow's chair. Carefully, she twisted to retrieve the fallen cloth, allowing just the right amount of cleavage to spill from her top as she reached for the material. Her blouse was cut just below her collarbone, but effective enough to give Willow an eyeful. Which is exactly what the redhead received when she followed her girlfriend's movements.
Sapphire eyes caught Willow's ogle while the redhead mouthed several words that were too low to reach Tara's hearing. Finally grabbing the napkin, the blonde's gaze briefly darted to the side and she noticed one of the male waiters checking her out with a smile. Embarrassed, Tara quickly straightened back into her chair and blushed as she used her hand to cover her face.
Willow whimpered when the display was abruptly taken from her. Her frown only deepened when she expected to look up and find Tara's smug half-grin, but found that she couldn't see the blonde's face. A simple glance to her side, filled in the question mark when she saw a young man giving her partner the once-over. However, upon noticing the redhead's squinty eyed expression, the waiter quickly moved his sights elsewhere.
Sliding her fingers through Tara's hand, Willow gently pulled it from the blonde's face and clasped it within hers. Her embarrassment forgotten, Tara smiled at the warmth radiating from Willow's body and allowed the feeling to sink into her skin. Despite being momentarily thrown off her quest to tantalize her lover, the blonde rested their joined hands on her thigh and resumed her task, by softly rubbing over Willow's knuckles.
"So Xander, what are you guys doing for your birthday?" Buffy asked.
"Ooh, we're getting strippers," Anya excitedly cut in and leaned into her boyfriend before he could answer. Xander accepted the gesture, but hastily shook his head at Anya's reply.
"Honey, I thought we agreed that there weren't going to be any male strippers at my party." He gently patted her hand, ignoring the questionable gazes they received.
It was, at the moment, when Xander took Anya's hand that Buffy finally noticed the display of affection that went around the table. She figured that since both Tara and Willow were apparently missing a visible arm, that the couple was holding hands beneath the table. Her palm itched for contact, and with a little hesitance, she bolding reached for Faith. The brunette responded immediately, completely unaware of the relieved sigh she let out as she firmly twined her fingers with Buffy's. Now content, both women tuned back into the conversation.
Anya pouted again, since the first time didn't get her off the hook. "Fine," she huffed, "we can tell them to throw in a female, too. Happy?"
"Anya, do you remember the last time you had strippers at your party?" Buffy's eyebrow quirked.
"Oh yeah," Anya whispered dreamily as her eyes took on a faraway look. Because Xander was confident in his relationship with Anya, he ignored the look, but decided to say something if the blonde started to drool.
"How could anyone forget?" He shuddered as he remembered getting the phone-call.
"Yeah, well you're lucky they agreed to drop the charges, Ms. Grabby-hands." Buffy shot a look toward Anya, knocking the other woman from her daydream.
"Well, as I remember, you weren't exactly prim and proper either." She challenged. Buffy chuckled nervously when her joined hand shifted and Faith smirked, raising an eyebrow as if to say, 'Oh really?'
"Thought so," Anya continued. "Anyway, what are you getting my Xander for his birthday?" She expectantly went around the table, bypassing Willow and Tara, who were still in their own worlds. "Oh, and a two-dollar coupon from Dirt Café isn't going to cut it," she meaningfully looked toward the cook.
Xander grimaced at Anya's nickname for the restaurant. Buffy looked as if she were about to comment, but she let it go and turned to the young man instead.
"So Xander, is there something you've been eyeing lately?"
"Buffy, you don't have to-." An elbow to the ribs quickly shut him up.
"Are you crazy?" Anya stared at him as if he'd grown another head. "You're never supposed to turn down gifts, least of all, expensive gifts," she innocently smiled toward Buffy.
"Okay, how about this... I give you the money, and you can get whatever you want." Buffy smiled toward her friend, not noticing the flash of green in his girlfriend's eye when she mentioned the M-word. "I mean, I know it takes away the element of surprise, but I stink at present buying."
Despite himself, Xander agreed as he remembered the electric sock 'thingie' he received the previous year.
"Great," Buffy nodded, happy with her idea. "I'm low on cash right now, but we get paid soon, right Will?" When there wasn't an immediate response, she glanced across to the redhead.
"Yeah," Willow huskily whispered, though she was responding to what Tara said as the two continued to giggle and talk in a hushed tone. Tara's knuckles rested against her cheek as she leaned in toward her girlfriend, and the proximity of their faces made it impossible to clearly hear their conversation.
"Slap her. It always works in the movies when the person won't wake up," Anya told Faith, since the brunette was within arms reach of Willow.
"Maybe, but she isn't asleep or unconscious," Faith frowned at the blonde's request.
"Your point?" Anya smirked. "Okay forget it. I have another idea."
"Leave 'em alone, Anya," Faith glanced over at the couple as she gave Buffy's hand a light squeeze. In all of her years, she'd never thought she'd ever become such a softy.
"But I'm ready to go," she whined before rolling her eyes, "fine." It looked as if she were finally giving up... or so they thought. Settling back into her chair with a slight lean, Xander was the only one to notice the cheeky grin she was unsuccessfully trying to hide.
Less than a minute later, Tara yelped in surprise and spun to face the blonde with a bewildered expression as her cheeks flared.
"Look, they're awake. Can we go now?" Nonchalantly, Anya began gathering her coat and purse. However, the entire time, she was consciously oblivious of Tara's embarrassment and the curious gazes emitting from the table.
As they left the restaurant, the blonde shot Anya another jumbled look, but this time Anya wiggled her eyebrows and winked at Tara before exploding with laughter as she skipped toward Xander's car.
"What was that about?" Buffy asked the question Willow had been musing since leaving.
Tara shrugged, dumbfounded and still a little lost on Anya's motives. Figuring that Tara would tell her if it was something important, Willow put aside her curiosity. Gradually, the group began to split up, leaving Faith a little hesitant to release Buffy's hand.
"Wanna ride?" A faint glow of red crept up Buffy's neck.
"Nah, I'm not too far away," Faith nodded down the street and reluctantly let her arm drift back to her side.
"Oh." Buffy briefly followed the brunette's gaze, a little disappointed when she no longer felt Faith's hand within hers.
"Ready?" Willow and Tara stood a little away from the other couple.
"Actually, Will, you guys go ahead. I'm going to walk Faith home." Faith's head snapped toward the blonde in surprise.
"It's late, you shouldn't be out by yourself," Faith half-heartedly protested, "I'll be fine."
"I insist," Buffy flashed her resolve face, "besides, I invited you out. What kind of date would I be, if I let you go home alone?" She froze. "Uh, not that we're... I don't mean...," she trailed off.
"Okay," Faith caved.
After saying their 'goodbyes' to the couple, Buffy and Faith headed down the sidewalk. The retreating silhouettes inched closer, the further they disappeared into the night, until the shadows resembled a single form.
"Looks like it's just us, now." Willow counted her lucky stars. "Ready?" She held her palm out, suppressing a shudder when Tara's hand slipped into it.
Upon entering the vicinity of Tara's apartment, Willow found it extremely hard to keep her eyes on the white lines of the road. The reason being, the echo of Tara's breathing while the blonde's head rested against her shoulder. Logically, she knew that it wasn't exactly the safest position to be in, but they were almost there, and who was she to object.
Tara purposely smothered the side of her face into Willow's shoulder, trying to catch every iota of her lover's scent. She closed her eyes and envisioned the familiar contours, valleys, and corners of Willow's body and bit her lip in anticipation. The previous night was great, but nothing could compare to physically being with her partner. Categorizing every gasp and twitch, Tara felt the glow of arousal illuminating her entire body.
The car rolled then stopped completely beside the sidewalk, which led to the front gate.
"Do you want me to come up?" Willow's question prompted the blonde to snap out of her reverie. When Tara raised her head, Willow felt herself melt in Tara's dark, hooded eyes.
"Should you even have to ask?" Tara whispered and arched an eyebrow, which only complimented her sexy half-grin.
Willow gulped, put the car in drive, and wheeled around the parking lot before Tara had time to blink. Desperately trying to minimize her giddiness and quiet the throbbing in her core, Willow willing followed Tara up the path.