"Donnie?" Tara repeated, surprise in her eyes as she took in the appearance of her brother.
"Tara," a smile lit up the young man's face as he held out his arms. The smile on his face widened when the blonde rushed forward, and was engulfed by Donnie's arms as they hugged.
Willow and the others regarded the two with confused, yet highly curious looks. The same question flooding each of their minds.
"Tara?" Willow wasn't aware that she had spoken as she stepped around the counter.
The new presence, and seeing her girlfriend smile, both warmed her heart and unnerved her. It was obvious that the embracing pair was close, or at least knew each other, but the redhead wondered about the closeness. She had to admit that she didn't know every detail about Tara, but an ex-boyfriend had never crossed her mind until now.
Hearing her name, Tara stepped back, smiling at her girlfriend. She motioned for the redhead to come closer, holding her hand out for Willow to take.
"Willow," she smiled, pulling her partner closer, "I'd like you to meet, Donald, my brother." The blonde looked back and forth, missing the hint of relief that flashed across Willow's face.
"Donnie." The young man corrected before smiling down at the redhead. "So you're the girl who's stolen my sister's heart," he chuckled, "I know, it's a cliché." He watched the emotions play across Willow's face as she stared at his sister.
Willow's eyes stayed on Tara's face as a smile broke out on her own. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she had a chance, she felt herself being lifted from the ground in hug.
"Donald," Tara playfully admonished when she heard Willow squeak in surprise.
"Sorry." Despite the apology, Donnie grinned as he released his hold. He glanced behind the redhead, where a small group of people had formed near the kitchen door. Two blondes, a brunette and a dark-haired young man shifted expectantly as they watched close by.
As if sensing the group's curiosity, Tara took Willow's hand, "C'mon, there's some people I want you to meet," she told Donnie as she and Willow moved toward the gang.
"So, what are you doing here?" The blonde asked her brother, once introductions had been made and the others wondered off again. "I mean, I know you said you were going to visit sometime, but I didn't think it would be so soon. What about work?"
"They won't miss me," he shrugged, "when I got your letter, I had already made up my mind. And anyway, I'm not staying long. I'll probably leave out tomorrow morning; I just wanted to come see how you were doing."
"How's dad?" Tara asked after a quick glance around to make sure she wasn't needed.
"The old man's hanging in there," Donnie smiled sincerely, "he misses you, but I think he understands your reason for... that you wanted to be closer..." His words faded off and Tara could see traces of the teenaged boy devastated by his mothers' loss.
"So anyway," his mood brightened a little, "we have a lot of catching up to do."
"Yes, we do," looking toward Willow, Tara smiled.
The restaurant's doors had closed for the night twenty minutes ago, and seven remaining people stayed behind. Xander, Anya and Donnie were seated at a table talking, and Faith and Buffy had disappeared into the back a short time ago.
"Why didn't you tell me that you had a brother," Willow lightly nudged her girlfriend's shoulder.
"Didn't I?" Tara fiddled with the blinds until the window was covered. Willow pretended to search her memory and shook her head. "I'm sorry, I must've been too caught up in other things," the blonde gave her partner a meaningful look.
"Valid point," Willow grinned, "just don't do it again, missy." She gently brushed her hand against Tara's arm. "I like knowing everything about you, and that includes where you came from. That means siblings, half-siblings, cousins, second-cousins, parents, aunts, grand-."
Pulling her lips away, Tara had used the best remedy to stop Willow's rambling. Honestly, she loved every part of Willow, but she knew that the redhead would eventually make it past third generations if given the chance.
"How about I just draw you a family tree instead," she joked, but before Willow could respond, Anya's familiar cackle interrupted her. Amused, they looked over to the laughing trio, who quickly looked away from them, which of course made both girls suspicious. Giving each other a curious look, the couple joined the others.
"Okay, what's so funny?" Willow asked, her eyes scanning each face.
"Hey Tara, had any mashed potatoes lately?" The grin on Xander's face almost cracked his lips.
It took the blonde a second before her eyes grew wide, nearly popping out. "You didn't." She cast an accusing eye toward her brother.
"What?" Donnie's palms lay flat on the table, his thumbs drumming nervously.
"Give it to me," Tara held out her hand when she saw what he was trying to hide under his hands.
"Guys, what...," Willow looked from Xander to Anya, who were quietly giggling to themselves, "what is it?"
"Nothing, it's nothing," Tara lied as she unsuccessfully tried to pry her brother's fingers from the table. Willow frowned, noticing a glossy surface sticking out from between Donnie's hands.
"Is that a picture?" The redhead watched Tara blush and vigorously shake her head. "It is…," she smiled, moving closer when Tara finally retrieved the photo, "let me see it."
Quickly hiding the picture behind her back, Tara inched away from Willow's grabbing hands as the redhead followed her.
"Let me see it," Willow asked again, her hands flexing and ready to tickle. Tara shook her head, backing up until she hit a wall. "Tara," the redhead moved smoothly, her resolve face beginning to form.
Tara gnawed on her lip and watched Willow step closer until she could feel her girlfriend's breath against her mouth. Mesmerized by the proximity and those eyes... and Willow moistening her lips... and-. Tara whimpered inaudibly, suddenly flushed and completely unaware that she no longer held the picture.
Willow placed a chaste kiss on her girlfriend's lips and grinned as she backed away from the dazed blonde. Her eyes lowered to the photo and she bit the inside of her mouth before catching Tara's mortified eyes.
"Laugh," a small smile worked its way onto the blonde's face," c'mon, I know you want to, so go ahead."
Willow's small frame shook, but still no sound came from her lips, which was probably because she was using all of her will not to laugh.
"It's so... cute," she managed through tight lips. Silence filled the room as eyes refused to make contact for fear of cracking. As if a dam had broken, Willow couldn't take it anymore and burst into laughter. "I'm sorry," she squeaked between giggles.
The picture in her hand was off a three year old Tara, who had apparently just woken up from the nap she had across her dinner plate. With tiredness in her eyes, the little girl's face and hair was caked with mashed potatoes as she dazedly blinked at the camera. A small broccoli sprout stuck to her cheek on one side and her forehead was adorned with scattered peas.
"I have more," Donnie's voice piped in as he pulled a large envelop from inside his jacket pocket. Eagerly, Willow and the others gathered around for their next dose of laughter.
"What is this, 'embarrass Tara day'"? Tara smiled, amused as she eyed the pack of photos.
"Aw, Sweetie," Willow kissed her partner's cheek, "don't worry, I have plenty of embarrassing pictures too."
"Yeah, Buffy has this picture of Willow dressed up as 'Mr. Stay-puff'," for Halloween," Xander cut in with a grin. Willow blushed, remembering when she dressed up as the marshmallow man from 'Ghostbusters'. Though her costume wasn't really a 'costume', it was more like sixteen bags worth of cotton balls glued to a garbage bag and a swimming cap.
"This coming from somebody who dressed up like 'wonder woman'?" Willow countered, raising an eyebrow.
"Wonder woman?" Anya also raised an eyebrow toward her boyfriend, "So that's why you like to play dress-up when we-." Xander gently squeezed his girlfriend's hand, prompting her to stop before she went into details.
Donnie cleared his throat, smiling at the friendliness of the group. Although he hadn't been completely happy when Tara decided to leave, hearing his sister laugh and seeing her happy was enough to know that it was the right choice.
"Okay, moving on," Xander blushed, fiddling with the napkin holder as all eyes turned to him. When the kitchen door swung open and two slightly disheveled girls came sauntering through, all of the focus shifted from the young man.
"Jeez, took you long enough," Anya huffed, rising from her seat. Since Tara's brother was in town, the gang had decided to go out to dinner after they finished cleaning up, and it felt like forever to Anya.
"What were you gals doing back there anyway?" A smile appeared on Xander's face, signaling his wandering mind.
"Vacuuming the-." Both girls began to explain at the same time.
"Uh huh," Willow looked at Buffy, noticing something from the corner of her eye. She looked over to Faith and jerked her head to the side, motioning for the brunette's eyes to follow.
Before Faith got the hint, Anya spoke up. "Vacuuming what, the lint from your neck?" She noticed the developing hickey on Buffy's neck, "Jeez, look at that," she moved closer to examine the blonde's throat, "that's definitely a two-weeker." She smiled, approvingly.
"Stop staring at it," Buffy shifted self-consciously.
"Well, with a shiner like that, it's sort of hard not to," Anya smirked.
"Can we go?" Buffy ignored the comment, not seeing the smug grin crossing her girlfriend's face.
Tara, who had remained silent during the conversation, took her lover's hand. Snuggling into Willow's side, the blonde saw her brother's pleased smile and blushed under the brightness. After a few more nagging comments from Anya, the group headed out.