Once the words reached Willow's ears, the redhead bit her lip, pondering the question. On one hand, she could lie and save herself the fatal blow of rejection. Or she could close her eyes, tell the truth, and wish for the best. Choosing the latter, the redhead's answer blurted out louder than she intended.
"Yes." Although it came out as nearly a shout, the single word seemed to freeze in the air before Tara understood its full meaning.
The blonde stared, dumbly, at her partner and tried to catch her breath. Slowly, the heaving motion of her chest slowed as her heart quivered, then skipped beneath her breast.
"Say it again." Barely audible, the low plea escaped Tara's lips as a thin sheen of water clouded her vision.
Willow's eyes opened to the sight of her girlfriend's slightly desperate blues. Through the haze, she noticed Tara's hand gripping one of her pillows as the blonde waited on the edge of tears.
"I love you, I love you," With an overwhelming confidence, Willow repeated the phrase several times, enjoying how each word absorbed within her tongue, planting itself there for many future uses. Just short of the fifth 'I love you', Tara couldn't contain herself any longer.
"Oh Willow," the blonde's affectionate gaze pierced through the kneeling redhead's heart, stopping her words at the base of her throat. "I love you, too. I...," Tara choked back a sob and hurriedly crawled forward to embrace her lover. Underestimating her own strength, Tara hurled herself into Willow's arms.
"Eep," Willow literally squeaked as they both toppled backward to the floor, but quickly forgot the pain when Tara began covering her face with excited kisses.
Buffy lightly knocked, but after receiving no answer, she boldly turned the knob and cautiously peeked into the room. Craning her neck through the crack, she saw sock-clad toes wiggling from the end of the bed, which had also been joined by a slightly longer jean-clad leg. Quickly concluding that each leg didn't belong to the same person, she moved more into the room.
"You know, I hear this oddly soft rectangular thing is really good for the snuggles," she smiled and patted the mattress as she looked down at the couple. Glad she hadn't walked in on anything more than PG13, Buffy giggled at the mess of limbs. "I was just seeing if you guys were ready, but..." she allowed herself to trail off, a warm smiling stretching her face.
"Sorry, Buffy-," Willow squealed when Tara nuzzled her neck, completely aware of Buffy's presence, but still too caught up in the feeling of the redhead's skin. "We're coming." She finally managed. Tara snorted, but groaned in protest when Willow began untangling herself, or at least trying to.
As soon as Buffy had left the two alone, Tara finally released the redhead from her grip. She stole another quick kiss from her girlfriend before Willow continued her search under the bed.
"When did you know?" She asked, admiringly watching the view.
Willow hummed in triumph when she spotted the red shoe. "Well, when it wasn't in the closet, I knew it was under here somewhere." She smoothed a hand over her hair and grinned as she held up the lonely object.
The blonde smiled, "Not the shoe, silly." She ran her fingers over red strands that Willow had missed.
"Oh. Oh!" Willow blushed. "I just knew... It's hard to...," she struggled for the right words, smiling at the sparkle in Tara's eyes. "Every time I looked at you, I knew." She breathed deeply. "And it was just...'Wow'. Everything. When we talked or held hands...kissed... or did other things," another blush, "you're just a 'wow' kinda girl."
Embarrassed by Willow's admiration, Tara glanced down. "I'm captured by your wow-ness," Willow continued, receiving a trademark smile for her use of words.
"When I first saw you at the restaurant," the smile remained as Tara looked up. "I knew that you were special and that I could fall in love with you. And I did then, but every minute since has only made it stronger. Made me stronger." She reached across, rubbing her thumb over Willow's cheek. "Thank you."
Willow hiccuped then giggled as fresh tears rose to the surface, "Keep this up, and I'm going to be a walking puddle all day."
"My puddle," Tara grinned as damp cheeks touched and lips sealed promises.
Tara added a skip to her step as she waved goodbye to the two figures in the car. Buffy was in the process of climbing into the passenger seat from the back, so Willow's wave had been momentarily blocked. The blonde saw her girlfriend playfully swatting at her best friend and guessed that Willow was asking why Buffy hadn't just used the door instead.
Her day at work had been dragging, the sudden rain having kept most of the potential customers indoors. Adding to the slowness was the fact that both Anya and Faith were absent from the restaurant, leaving a strangely quiet atmosphere and distracted cook.
She hadn't wanted to pry, but after hearing Buffy's frustration at the house, Tara's mind wandered to Faith. She didn't know much about their past, but wondered about the reasons, which kept the young brunette away. It was clear, if given enough attention, the emotion behind Faith's shadowed eyes.
Although it was slightly out of character for Tara to mingle in other people's affairs, she could sense that something was on Faith's mind. She made a promise to herself to at least attempt to speak to the brunette. Tara knew that it was easier for some to talk or open up to people they hardly knew, versus close friends. It was almost as if the thought of judgment wasn't as painful or personal.
Upon realizing that she was standing outside of her door, and also that she was beginning to get stares, Tara blushed and entered her apartment.
Musing to herself about the morning as she returned from checking her mail, Tara released a surprised, yet happy gasp as she stopped in front of her door.
"Hello you." Two beautiful eyes stared back at her. "Looking for something?" The green eyes blinked as small lips curved into a silent answer.
About an hour after Tara hung up the phone, there was a knock at her door. Shaking the nervousness from her system, the blonde quickly answered.
"H-Hey, come in," she smiled as her guest entered, "have a seat." Tara motioned toward the couch as she closed the door.
Sensing the nervousness in Tara's movements, concerned fingers grasped the blonde's hand as Tara turned to leave the room. "Hey, something wrong?"
"N-No," she chided the butterflies in her stomach, "No, I'm being silly." Squeezing the hand within hers, she continued, "I have a surprise for you."
"Ooh," feeling giddy, Willow clapped. "Is it chock-full of goodness?"
"Yes," Tara grinned, happy with her girlfriend's excitement.
"Can I eat it?" Willow asked, trying to figure out what Tara had for her.
"Um," Tara bit her lip to stifle her laugh, "not sure about that one. Let me go find it," she gave Willow's hand a final squeeze before the redhead planted herself on the couch. "Stay here, I'll be right back." With that, she disappeared down the hallway.
"I won't move a muscle," Willow called out.
Tara had been gone for more than five minutes and Willow was beginning to regret her promise not to move. Not just because she was anxious to know what Tara was back there searching for, but also because her ankle had begun to itch. After careful seconds of consideration, she used the tip of her shoe to scratch the spot, but quickly realized that it wasn't doing the trick.
Reaching down without looking, the redhead's nails grazed over the area. "Rat. Rat!" She screamed when her hand connected with short fur. "Oh god. Get it, get it!" She continued when Tara ran back into the living room.
The first thing the blonde saw was her almost pale girlfriend, eyes shut tightly as her hand gripped the couch cushion. Willow blanched even more as Tara began to laugh. "It's not a rat. It's your surprise. Must've gotten out when I opened the bedroom door." She spoke more to herself.
Willow still refused to open her eyes, "A jumbo rat? You got me a jumbo rat?" She asked, slightly hysterical.
"Willow, sweetie, it isn't a rat. See, look," Tara scooped down, picking up the gray kitten. "It's a kitty." The small bundle in her arms finally meowed.
"Not a rat?" Calming eyes opened slowly.
"Not a rat." Tara assured. She had been nervous about Willow's reaction to her surprise, but never expected the redhead to mistake it for a rodent.
As Willow's heart returned to normal beats, she couldn't help but feel embarrassed by her actions. Especially when Tara sat beside her, and four small legs sauntered to her lap. "Aw, she's so cute," she paused, twisting to look at the kitten, "is she a she?" Tara nodded. "Okay."
"She was sitting outside my door when I came from getting the mail," the blonde rubbed behind soft ears.
"Is she safe, I mean, healthy?" Willow asked.
"I've already made an appointment with the vet, just to be sure."
"What if she already has a mommy. Some kid could be out looking for her right now," her inner-voice told Willow to be quiet, especially since she didn't want her guesses to be true.
"I checked." Tara hummed, snuggling closer to her partner and the new addition.
"You've thought of everything." Willow smiled.
"Well, there is one small problem." Both the kitten and Willow turned heads. "In order to keep a pet in the apartment, you have to put down a 'pet deposit'. And I'm guessing that's why none of the neighbors claimed her."
"How much is it?"
Tara shrugged, "I was going to talk to one of the managers tomorrow. I'll just say that I was thinking of getting a kitten. If it-."
"But won't they know that something's up? I mean, is it really necessary to bring them into it, " Willow cut in. "Look at her, she's not exactly Cujo. And she'll be very quiet too."
Willow prepared to continue her innocent coercion, but Tara was already sold. "What shall we name her?"
"I don't know," Willow giggled as the kitten's whiskers tickled her palm, "I've never had a real live pet before... well, I mean, I've had fish. But they don't really do anything."
"I'm sure we'll think of something," Tara sighed happily, "so you're not allergic, right? I wasn't sure."
"Nope, not that I know of. And even so, it's nothing a bottle of eye drops and a trip to the drugstore won't cure." The kitten pawed its way up her stomach, clinging to the material of her shirt.
"Aw, love you," Tara smiled toward the animal, lightly curling her fingers through fur. From the corner of her eye, she caught Willow's pout.
"Hey-." Willow's words were silenced by a finger.
"I love you," adoration emitting from her face, Tara stared into the redhead's eyes.
"Much better," Willow grinned, "I-," lips muffled her words, "-too."