The next morning, a sniveling Xander arrived at the restaurant with Anya's fretting hands in tow. The young man was obviously overdressed for the weather, looking as if he'd bundled up for a blizzard. It was a day before his birthday, and he vowed to get over his cold before then, even if it included putting the local drugstores out of business.
"Xander, you look awful," Willow commented, observing her friend's appearance as she stepped back.
"The smell isn't too flattering either," Buffy snorted as she leaned against the front counter. The place was pretty empty for a Friday, and business hardly picked up until around noon, so the cook used the free time to hangout in the front with her friends.
"You should be at home, in bed," Tara smiled kindly and unconsciously stepped back when Xander coughed.
"I was, but someone," he glanced at Anya, "thought it would be better for me to get out-," a sneeze replaced his words.
"Well, there's no point in staying in bed like a big slug," Anya took the moment to cut in. "And besides I needed him to pick me up from work, anyway."
"Yeah, I forgot about that," Buffy began, "so how's that going for you? The whole telemarketing thing?"
"It went." Xander mumbled.
Off the other's looks, Anya explained, "Oh, I quit," she flapped her hand in the air as if it didn't matter, "it was boring and they only paid on commission. And anyway, Xander needed me. I'm taking care of him," she beamed, proudly. Although flashes of the movie Misery had suddenly popped into Xander's mind, he smiled at his girlfriend's efforts.
"Well, thanks for gracing us with your germs, Xander," Buffy joked before her attention was drawn to the new customers who had just entered. Break was officially over as two more people walked through the door, but the blonde couldn't complain. It was Friday, and Friday equaled payday, so Buffy was happy to get back to work.
"Would you like some hot tea?" Tara asked Xander when he and Anya took a seat at the table near the counter. "I have a mixture. It might help with the ickiness." She gestured toward her throat. The blonde received a subtle rub from Willow's hip as the redhead went to help the customers and Buffy exited into the kitchen.
Nodding, Xander smiled thankfully as Tara disappeared in search of the herbal tea she'd brought from home. Anya flipped through the menu, frowning, and pointed to an item when Tara returned.
"What's in this?" Tara turned her attention to the picture of a vegetable omelet.
"Red peppers, mushrooms, broccoli-."
"Bleh, too many plants," Anya interrupted. "How about this?"
Tara frowned, "It's a bagel," she arched a confused eyebrow and looked to Xander. The young man shrugged and went back to sipping his tea. When Anya gazed at her expectantly, the blonde knew she was serious. "Um, raisins-."
"Bleh." Anya scrunched her nose. "What about this one? No, never mind, forget that one." She skimmed the paper, "what's this?"
"Corned-beef on rye with Swiss cheese," she nervously bit the inside of her lip as Anya pondered the information. Quickly scanning the room to see if anyone was waiting for her, Tara watched Anya point to another item.
"Eck, what's that green stuff?"
Knowing that she'd be awhile, Tara pulled out the chair across from the couple. She hoped that any minute Willow would rescue her, but it was no use. Tara glanced at her partner and saw that she was busy. Sighing in defeat, she turned back to Anya.
Twenty minutes later, Tara knew almost every item on the menu by heart. When it seemed as if all hope was lost, she received a gift... of garbage. The blonde had jumped at the opportunity to empty the trash when Buffy asked, in fact, she practically tripped over her feet trying to grab the bag.
After two tries, Tara managed to open the dumpster's lid and lugged the bag onto the other side. Brushing her hands off, she hoped she could make a beeline for the restroom before Anya saw her. It wasn't about avoidance, she was just a firm believer in personal hygiene.
Well, it's partly true, she shrugged.
"Hey Tara." Startled, Tara jumped back. "Whoa," Faith helped steady the blonde before she fell into the dumpster, "sorry about that."
She had been walking past the opening of the alley to the side of the restaurant and spotted the blonde standing near the large green dumpster.
"F-Faith," still surprised, Tara smiled at the brunette. "What are you doing here? N-Not that you're not allowed to be here, but-." She blushed, noticing that she had begun to babble. "Sorry," Tara added, sheepishly.
"Don't worry about it," Faith waved it off, "I was just coming to see Buffy, then I saw you. What were you doing?"
"Oh, Buffy had asked me to take out the trash." Tara said, seeing a pensive look cross Faith's face.
"Is she mad at me?" The question was unexpected. "I mean, I've been sort of MIA lately... not exactly the best girlfriend-quality." Faith chuckled, though she inwardly chided herself.
Tara chose to answer honestly," She's worried," a frown creased her brow, "but I don't think she's upset." Pausing, the blonde's friendly gaze settled on Faith. "I-I know it's not my place, but maybe you should talk to her."
"What do I say?" Faith knew that she shouldn't be bombarding Tara with questions, but the gentle concern in the blonde's eyes was like a beacon for asking guidance.
Tara thought back to her promise to speak to the brunette, but she hadn't expected it to happen so soon. She had wanted to have some time to know what she was going to say, yet the vulnerability present in Faith's voice told Tara to just say what came to her mind.
"W-Well, how do you feel about Buffy?"
"I care about... I love her," Faith answered honestly. "I have for a while, but it's just...," her sentence broke off again as she kicked a small rock by her foot. Struggling for the right words, she shoved her hands in her pockets. "I've finally got what I've wanted for so long, and I don't know how to act. Does that make sense?"
The blonde nodded as she listened, letting Faith vent out her frustrations.
"I've always felt that it was-."
"Earned." The brunette looked up, surprised, when Tara cut in. Tara wasn't aware that she'd spoken aloud until Faith nodded in understanding.
"Yeah! It's almost like I have to somehow earn her love, her acceptance."
"Faith, acceptance is given. It isn't always earned," Tara shook her head, "Buffy wants to be with you because she wants to, and because she knows that you're a good person." She reflected on her own relationship. "I don't know what Buffy feels or thinks. But I think, inside she has already given you her love. All you have to do now... is accept it." She smiled encouragingly, hoping Faith understood what she was trying to say.
The backdoor had opened slightly, "Hi," Willow smiled brightly, then noticed Faith.
"I'm going to go," she pointed at the door, sharing a grateful smile with Tara as the blonde nodded. Exchanging a greeting with Willow, she headed toward the kitchen.
"I was beginning to think Anya talked you into quitting," Willow chuckled, stepping out of Faith's way and into the alley. "You aren't planning on making a run for it, are you?" She joked, only half serious. The redhead had caught a few glimpses of her partner as Tara sat with Anya and Xander. Briefly, she had noticed the tolerance on the blonde's face, but knew that Tara could only put up with so much of Anya's grumbling.
"No," Tara grinned, sweetly, loving the small pout on Willow's lips.
"Good." The pout turned into a matching grin. "So what were you and Faith talking about?" She circled her arms around Tara's waist, leaning into her lover.
Enjoying the warmth of Willow's body, Tara hummed, "Buffy." She looped her arms around the redhead's shoulders, her fingers brushing against the hair, which rested on the base of Willow's neck.
"Oh, I see. So you gave her 'the talk'?"
"Something like that," Tara breathed the scent of lavender and honey. "So I was thinking..."
"Yeah," Willow kissed the skin beneath her mouth.
"...about you and me..." A soft nibble on the corner of full lips.
"Yeah." Willow gently pushed. The heat was already starting to rise in Tara's body and she knew it would be impossible to get a whole sentence out if Willow kept kissing her with every word. Instead, she went straight to the point.
"Dinner." The blonde groaned when Willow's hand repeatedly trekked up her back, smoothing over her shirt. Willow didn't have a chance to reply as Tara's lips covered hers.
Hands roaming to her girlfriend's butt, Tara groaned again in appreciation as Willow shuddered. Her fingers traced the hem of Willow's shirt, reaching under to rub over soft skin. When she knew she had the redhead where she wanted her, Tara pulled back. She backed away and moved Willow's hands until they rested within hers.
Playfully stepping out of reach, she smiled, teasingly, at her girlfriend's dreamy stare. Traces of Tara's kiss lingered on Willow's abandoned lips, leaving the redhead yearning for more.
"So what are you cooking?" The question broke Willow from her daydream. She found Tara's eyes, seeing the sparkle as the blonde winked, just before disappearing back into the building.
Staring, dumbfounded, at the closed door, Willow's mouth gapped. The panic was already starting to set in. Tara wanted her to cook? Her? The same person who had once blown up her parent's microwave, trying to boil an egg in a coffee cup?
Before she had time for the fear to fully take over, Tara's head had peeked through the door. "You coming?" She grinned from ear to ear. Like the love-struck woman she was, Willow followed behind the blonde. She just hoped Tara liked soggy fish-sticks and kool-aid.