Tara gazed out the bedroom window as she put on her earrings. It was a perfect winter day in Sunnydale: the sun shone brightly, its rays caressing and warming the world around the home she shared with Willow.
"Willow," Tara whispered adoringly.
She couldn't hold back her smile as she thought of her girl. She turned away from the window and moved toward the bed. Making the bed was usually an easy task - only one half of the bed got used most of the time. For sleeping, anyway. This particular morning, however, called for a more involved process; the events of the previous night left the bed in a distinct state of disarray. After stripping the sheets from the bed and depositing them in the hamper, Tara retrieved fresh sheets from the hall closet. She made short work of putting the clean sheets on the bed and picked up the comforter from where it had lain in a heap on the floor after being unceremoniously shoved away by the bed's rather active occupants.
The pillows...ah, the pillows. Tara slowed down her efforts, efficiency no longer part of her plan. She picked up one pillow and gently cradled it to her chest, burying her face in the fluffy softness. She inhaled deeply. Willowscent. A stream of liquid heat coursed through Tara's body. Nearly six years and just the smell of her...the thought of her still gets me hot. Shaking her head, Tara chuckled and quickly changed the pillowcase. She repeated the process for the second pillow, placed them both in their proper positions at the head of the bed, and deposited the soiled pillowcases in the hamper with the rest of the musky sheets.
"You're hopeless, Maclay. Blissfully, deliriously hopeless," she spoke aloud and chuckled as she made her way to the door.
Tara approached the bottom of the stairs and turned toward the living room. She leaned against the doorframe and took in the sight before her, a smile gracing her features.
Willow was perched precariously at the edge of the couch. She leaned in close to the laptop sitting on the coffee table. Her face was drawn in concentration - her brow knitted, her eyes focused slits, her tongue poking between her lips, her red hair disheveled from running her fingers through it.
In short, she was a picture of beauty.
Tara marveled at how much passion she still felt for the petite redhead. The years had not diminished the intensity of their relationship. Just when I think she can't get any more beautiful... Tara's eyes trailed over the figure before her. Even wearing my rumpled sweatpants and t-shirt, she's so damned sexy. Tara pushed away from the doorframe and walked quietly toward her lover. She knew Willow needed to work, but right then, Tara just needed to be near her girl. The honeymoon is definitely not over. She smiled and continued her approach. It never will be.
Engrossed in her work, Willow did not notice Tara draw near. She'd been working on the project for weeks and she still couldn't figure out the final bug in the program. It was annoying her. One line. One line of code is kaplooey. Willow ran both hands through her already mussed hair and dropped her head, her fingers linking behind her neck. "Shit!"
My poor girl, thought Tara, who had moved to sit cross-legged on the couch near Willow. Upon hearing the expletive escape Willow's lips, Tara knew she needed to intervene and take matters into her own hands. Literally. She shifted her position with the stealthy grace of a panther.
Willow returned her fingers to the keyboard in front of her and took a deep breath, steeling herself for the task ahead. I'm going to get this, dammit. Now, where is it? C'mon, little code...come to Mamma. The soft sensation of gentle hands brushing her hair aside brought Willow out of her thoughts. She knew that touch. Willow instantly relaxed, leaning toward the touch, drawn to it. "Mmm, Tara."
"Hey, Sweetie," Tara murmured into the redhead's neck. "Is that...program...still...giving you...problems?" As she spoke, Tara trailed light kisses along Willow's neck and jaw line, finally moving to nibble on her love's ear. She settled herself directly behind Willow and wrapped her arms around the smaller woman's waist. Hoping to move Willow away from the edge of the couch and more fully into her arms, Tara tightened her hold and urged Willow to scoot back.
Willow didn't need further convincing. Immediately, she moved herself back on the couch, putting a hand on each of Tara's thighs to give her leverage. As she settled back into her Tara-cocoon, Willow sighed contentedly. "Mmm, program? What program is that, Baby? Right now the only thing on my mind is a certain blonde-haired, blue-eyed goddess." She twisted around a bit so she could look into the clear blue of Tara's eyes. "I love you."
Tara's gaze met equally clear green eyes and she smiled. "I love you too, Willow. With all my heart." She placed a quick kiss on the tip of Willow's nose and, with a sultry grin, added, "and a few other parts, too."
Willow laughed and leaned more fully into Tara's embrace. "Mmm...I got a taste of how much those other parts love me last night," she purred, her hands caressing the legs that were straddling her. "Pun completely intended."
As she resumed her assault on Willow's neck, Tara's hands snuck underneath the redhead's shirt. She shivered when she felt the smooth expanse of Willow's stomach. Willow's answering gasp shot through Tara's body and settled at her core. Oh God. She continued to focus her attention on the smooth skin under her lips, speaking between kisses and nibbles. "You certainly did taste my parts last night." She paused for a moment, her hands moving further up Willow's torso, before continuing. "And, um, did they taste good?"
Willow moaned as she felt Tara's hand reach the underside of her breast. She arched into the touch and smiled. "Oh yeah, Baby, sooo good. Very, very yummy."
"As yummy as six years ago?"
Tara smiled and nuzzled deeper into Willow's neck, nipping at her beloved's pulse point. "Mmm, good," she murmured as she slid her hands to cover Willow's breasts, gently rubbing her palms against the hardened nipples.
"Oh, Tara." Willow felt as though her blood were boiling; the heat coursing through her veins moved swiftly toward the apex of her thighs where it began a steady, pulsating beat. So glad I decided against the bra today. So very, very glad. Willow's right hand snapped up to hold Tara's in place as she reached behind her lover with her other hand and wrapped it around Tara's neck, pulling the blonde into a searing kiss.
As Willow's body writhed against hers, Tara felt her own nipples harden as they rubbed against Willow's back. She lost herself in the kiss. She always lost herself in Willow-kisses. Always. Besides the fact that Willow was just a damned good kisser, Tara felt as if they were touching the innermost parts of each other. It went beyond the physical sensations - though Tara couldn't deny that the physical was oh so nice.
Willow felt as though her skin were on fire. Tara's hands were relentless: firmly massaging Willow's breasts, gently pinching and tugging at her hardened nipples. She released Tara's lips and gasped, her breathing becoming more and more shallow. Willow closed her eyes and let her head fall back onto Tara's shoulder. "Mmm, Tara...that feels so good." She arched her back, craving even more of her lover's touch. Want Tara. Need Tara. Willow pulled Tara to her, resuming her attack on the blonde's full lips. Tara-lips. Tara-tongue. Must. Have. More. Tearing herself away from the Heaven that was Tara's kiss, Willow quickly turned her body and settled on Tara's lap, straddling her beloved's thighs. She tore her shirt roughly over her head, flung the garment across the room, and pulled Tara back into a heated kiss.
As their tongues passionately battled for dominance, Tara wasted no time in taking advantage of Willow's half-nakedness. She quickly regained her hold on Willow's breasts, kneading the flesh and closing her fingers around the redhead's rock-hard nipples. The feel of Willow's hips rolling against her lower stomach forced out a groan that Tara swore came from her toes. She needed Willow-skin, and she needed it now. Leaving Willow's red, swollen lips, Tara made her way down her lover's neck, trailing a blazing path with her tongue until she reached the redhead's pulse point. She bit down and sucked on the sensitive flesh - not enough to leave a mark, but enough to make her presence known.
"Tara," Willow gasped out her beloved's name and buried her hands in silky hair, holding Tara to her as the rhythm of her hips increased in intensity. Coherent thought was quickly making itself scarce. Before she lost complete control of her mind and body, Willow struggled to speak. "I think...mmm...oh God...I can't think...Tara...bedroom...now...ngah...all day...want you...yes, right there...please, Baby."
Tara moved her way further down Willow's body, leaving wet, hot kisses along her collarbone. When she reached Willow's breasts, she pushed them together and quickly flicked her tongue over Willow's nipples. "Can't. Not all day," she breathed and she circled her tongue around the pebbled areolas. "Youth center. Have to help. Kids expecting me." She concluded by taking one of Willow's nipples into her mouth and devouring it. Her hands wrapped around her lover's body, palms flat against Willow's back, pulling Willow more deeply into her mouth. Tara was startled when Willow's breast was pulled away from her questing lips and tongue. She looked up into green eyes, confused. "Sweetie?"
"Today? You're going to just stop and leave me like this? You can't stop!" The look on Willow's face was incredulous. She wouldn't. She couldn't. Not my Tara. No no no.
"Willow," Tara smirked at her girlfriend, "I'm not the one who stopped, Love." Her hands continued to move in sensual patterns along Willow's spine, her fingers dipping lower to caress just above Willow's tailbone.
"But, you said-"
"I said, 'not all day,'" Tara interrupted the flushed redhead, all the while continuing her tantalizing caresses. "I didn't say anything about stopping." She slid her hands under the elastic of Willow's sweat pants and cupped her lover's smooth derrière, squeezing the soft flesh and pulling Willow closer.
Willow closed her eyes and let a moan escape as she felt her center press more firmly against Tara's stomach. "God, Tara." She's torturing me, that's what she's doing. And I love every minute of it. "Okay, but...mmm...the fact remains, you're going...oohh...to leave. And I'm going to...mmm, God...be here alone...in this big...ahhh...house, just thinking about you...use your nails, Baby...and wanting you all day."
"You don't...have...to be...alone," Tara hummed between kisses on any piece of exposed skin within her reach. Finishing - for the moment - with a quick bite on an accessible nipple, she looked at her flustered girlfriend and continued. "Come with me."
"Oh yeah, that's more like it, Baby. I want to come with you. Now. Want you now," Willow growled as Tara continued to lave her breastbone.
Tara chuckled, briefly ceasing her ministrations to smile at Willow. "To the youth center, Sweetie. You can go with me to the youth center."
"Go with you?" Willow's eyes widened, her pupils still dilated in arousal. "Me? And...and kids? Can't you just stay home today?" She stuck out her lower lip in what she considered a foolproof pout. "Please?"
Tara reached up and grasped the protruding lip with her own, nipping seductively. "You know I can't, Sweetie," she said as she looked deeply into the green eyes before her. "Those kids are counting on me. I can't let them down." She placed another kiss on Willow's lips before trailing kisses down her neck. "Come with me. You can bring your laptop if you want. You don't have to play with the kids. Just...be there with me."
Willow knew she would never deny Tara anything - especially when the love of her life looked at her with pleading eyes. "No" was just not in Willow's vocabulary when it came to Tara. But that didn't mean she couldn't put up a struggle, albeit a fun struggle. Everything with Tara is a win-win situation. "Well...what's in it for me?" she asked as she leaned back, placing a hand on each of Tara's knees, effectively thrusting her now thoroughly soaked core into Tara's body. Willow smiled salaciously.
As the scent of Willow's arousal reached Tara's senses, the blonde bit down on her lower lip and let out a shaky breath. Her hands ran along Willow's fleece covered thighs, stopping at her lover's hips. She grasped the material in her fists and pulled Willow even closer. Snaking one arm behind Willow's lower back, Tara pulled the redhead's torso to her and planted feather light kisses along her cleavage. "What's in it for you," she whispered, "is an all-you-can eat Christmas buffet when we get home."
Willow's jaw dropped. "A buffet?" She's kidding, right? "A buffet, Tara? A Christmas buffet? I'm Jewish! I don't want a Christmas buffet."
"Not even if I'm the main course?" Tara asked lasciviously.
Willow's smile eclipsed the tree at Rockefeller Center. "Oh, that Christmas buffet! For that I'll sing 'O Come All Ye Faithful,' 'Silent Night,' and 'Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer'...at midnight mass!"
"So, is that a yes?" Tara asked as she slid one hand under the waistband of Willow's panties and ran her fingers through slick folds.
Willow's hips slid toward Tara's questing fingers as she leaned forward to touch their foreheads together. She closed her eyes and lost herself in Tara's touch. "Yes. Oh God, Yes," she sighed a moment later. "I'll go anywhere with you."
"Are you sure, Sweetie? I want you to go with me, but you don't have to unless you really-"
The rest of the sentence was lost as Willow leaned in to seize Tara's tongue. When she pulled away from Tara's soft, warm lips, Willow spoke in a husky voice.
Tara clasped Willow behind the neck and drew the redhead into a deep kiss, swallowing Willow's gasps and moans. She broke from Willow's lips and gazed intently into her lover's eyes. "I love you so much, Willow," she whispered. "Now then," she purred, teasing the redhead's opening with the tips of two fingers, "you were saying something about not stopping..."
"Never stop," Willow whispered as she recaptured Tara's lips, once again relinquishing her mind and body to Tara.
"Mmpphh...Baby...mmm...got to...get...inside," Willow gasped between kisses.
Tara kissed along Willow's jaw line, stopping at the redhead's ear. "It's your fault we're late," she breathed just before taking the sensitive lobe between her lips, lightly sucking and nibbling the flesh.
"My fault?" Willow was finding it difficult to breathe, let alone talk. "I'm not...mmm...the one who pulled you...oh yeah...into an alcove to...ah that feels good...kiss you senseless."
With a final, flourishing stroke of her tongue along the edge of Willow's ear, Tara leaned back to smile at her lover. "True. But you're the one who had to sample the Christmas buffet before we left." Tara's eyes sparkled.
"Mmm...I couldn't help it. It's such a delicious buffet," Willow said, making yummy noises to emphasize her point.
Tara's laugh was full and rich. "Well, I kind of figured that out since you had three helpings." She snuck her hand under Willow's shirt to run her fingers over her lover's smooth stomach. "You must be full, Sweetie."
"Full?" Willow questioned with feigned shock. "I could never have enough of your Christmas buffet."
A grin formed on Tara's lips as she leaned in to kiss Willow again. The kiss held all the passion, but little of the frenetic need of their earlier kisses. She broke the kiss after a moment and rested her forehead against Willow's. "I love you," she whispered.
"I love you too, Baby," Willow responded, sweeping in to leave a quick peck on Tara's lips. "Now," she began, a mischievous smile crossing her features, "let's get inside so you can work with those kids. And so we can get home." She licked her lips. "I'm getting hungry again...I want some buffet."
The first thing Willow noticed as she and Tara entered the youth center was the pulsating beat of Cher's "Do You Believe" coming from the portable stereo in the corner. A little stuck in the 90s, but whatever. The second thing she noticed was the desk sitting in the middle of the reception area. The items on the desk were neatly organized; it seemed as if everything had a 'home'.
"Sweetie, I'm just going to check the volunteer schedule to see who else is here. I'll be right back."
Willow turned toward Tara the moment she heard her love's sweet voice. "Okay, Tara. I'll be right here waiting for you," she said with a smile as Tara stepped into an adjoining room. Bobbing her head slightly to the music, Willow glanced around the room. The walls were adorned with pictures of children engaged in various center-sponsored activities. Did that song just start over at the beginning? At the center of one wall was a large portrait of a man sporting a perfectly tailored suit and a rather toothy grin. Below the portrait was a gold plaque with an inscription.
RICHARD WILKINS III
Wow, want a little wine with that cheese? Willow chuckled internally. She cocked her head to the side and gazed carefully at the effervescent looking man staring back at her. Whitney's prettier. She shook her head slightly and turned away from the portrait. Although, I'm sure this guy has done more for kids than show them how to be an anorexic crack-whore...okay...alleged crack-whore. But I still say she's anorexic.
As she continued to wait for Tara's return, Willow surveyed the room. She neared the desk and noticed that each item on it had a small label of some sort. A rather colorful mug sat atop a UC Sunnydale coaster. Willow was reaching for the mug, planning to inspect the design more closely, when a sharp voice caused her to freeze mid-reach.
"Don't touch that!"
Snapping her hand back to her side, Willow turned to see a young woman with short, dark brown hair staring at her. The woman's hands were balled into tight fists, each planted firmly on a hip. To say that Willow was taken aback would have been an understatement.
"Oh, um, I'm sorry. I was just - "
"You were just touching things that aren't yours. Can't you read? Everything is clearly marked with a label, so I just don't see how you could think that touching things that aren't yours is appropriate behavior." The woman spoke with an air of righteous indignation, her hands gesturing wildly, as if the movement would lend weight to her argument. "I mean, the only way I could understand your confusion would be if your name is Kathy and somehow thought everything with 'Kathy' on it immediately belonged to you. However, I highly doubt that's your name. And that just takes us back to the main point which is you touching things that aren't yours!"
Willow's mouth opened and closed, but she couldn't make any coherent sounds.
"I have plenty of vowels, so do you think you could add some consonants to what you're saying? Maybe I could get an explanation for why you were about to touch my things."
The blush on Willow's face was initially caused from embarrassment. Now, it was from anger. Just as she was about to lay into this "Kathy" person - Rude much? I'll give the little shit an explanation - another voice floated across the room.
"Kathy!" Tara spoke sharply to the dark haired woman and moved to stand next to Willow, her hand resting protectively on the small of Willow's back. "Calm down. This is my girlfriend, Willow. If you're going to be upset with anyone, be upset with me. I forgot to let Willow know about your particular...quirk...when it comes to your things." She turned to Willow, her apology clearly showing in her eyes. "I'm sorry, Will."
"It's okay, Baby. Don't worry about it. No harm done." God, I love this woman.
"It's okay? No harm done?! QUIRK?!?!" Kathy's voice went up an octave with each accusatory query. "Since when is it 'okay' to violate the sanctity of someone else's personal things? What about the harm done to me and my personal space? Huh? I don't see where you people get off - "
"We're leaving now, Kathy. It was nice seeing you again," Tara offered as she led Willow out of the reception area and into the heart of the center.
"- thinking that you can just come in and touch all of my things." Kathy continued her tirade as if Tara had never spoken. In fact, at that moment, neither Tara nor Willow was sure if Kathy even realized they were still in the room. "Quirk? Quirk! Huh! Just because someone wants a little of her own personal space, she suddenly has a 'quirk'. Well, that's just peachy!"
The sound of Kathy's voice faded away to nothing as Willow and Tara walked away from the ranting woman.
"Will, I'm really sorry about Kathy. I should have warned you about her." Tara sighed and shook her head. She led Willow around a corner and down a long, wide hallway. "The thing is, she's really a dedicated worker. She really does love this place and puts in a lot of hours to make sure everything is on schedule. Unfortunately, she's a little...odd."
"Odd? That's putting it a little mildly, don't you think?" Willow interjected, the laughter in her voice and the twinkle in her eye indicating that she wasn't upset. "And people say I have OCD. Hmph!"
Tara giggled at the expression on Willow's face. "Yeah, she has her own OCD category, that's for sure. But, really, she's okay. She just takes getting used to. Plus, I make a point to stay out of her way."
"Good plan. Mental note: don't cross Kathy's path. Check." Willow gave a determined nod before continuing. "At least it's quiet again." She didn't notice Tara's smirk.
The couple came to the end of the hallway and faced a large set of double doors. A placard over the doorway indicated that they were about to enter the "Rec Room." Tara turned to Willow and took the redhead's hand in her own.
"Remember, Sweetie, you don't have to play with the kids. You're here for me, not for them." Tara smiled at her girlfriend and gave her a quick wink. "Ready?"
Willow nodded and squeezed Tara's hand. "Yep, I'm ready. They're just kids. How bad can it be?"
As they entered, the sights and sounds that filled the room attacked Willow's senses - and her sensibilities.
Willow took in her surroundings with wide eyes. The room was large. Scattered about the floor were mats in various shapes and colors. Puzzles. Along the far wall were rows of tables and chairs - kid sized - with paints and books and pens and crayons and paper and...macaroni? At the right side of the room, Willow noticed a stage. The stage was about four feet high and ran the width of the room. Curiously, there were currently eight cows - cows? - filling the stage space. Papier-mâché cows, to be precise. And each seemed to be at a different degree of adornment. Small picnic tables occupied the left side of the room. And the closest wall, the one that had the door they just entered, was lined with coat hooks and small shelves. All of this - most of it, anyway - seemed normal to Willow; it's what she would expect from a room that served to entertain and educate children. What she didn't quite expect is what she saw and heard at the center of the room.
They were everywhere. A dozen children, ranging from perhaps five to nine years old, were running rampant. There was no rhyme or reason to their actions; they were wild. A couple of them were sitting on the puzzle-mats, doing their best to keep others from disturbing their activities. Others were running around in circles, apparently for no reason other than they wanted to. One little girl was vaulting over the sitting children, kicking her leg high in the air when she landed, as if attacking some unseen enemy. Another little girl wearing an eye patch and carrying a plastic sword was chasing the vaulting girl, though she seemed to be having some trouble keeping pace. At the edge of the ruckus was a little boy, sitting in the middle of a bunch of toy computers - laptops - that were connected by a series of...monkeys?
As if the activity wasn't harrowing enough, twelve voices filled the room with a cacophony of random, overlapping commentary.
"Who took my mistletoe?"
"Arr! It's a girl's name, ya land lubber!"
"I'm in the story! I'm in the story! I'm in the story!"
"You all aren't being organized!"
"'White Christmas'...Bing Crosby."
"Keep your hands off my wood!"
"Ayi-ayi-ayi-ayi!! C'mon Gabrielle!"
"Yay! Open code!"
"Hush! I'm telling my babies a story so they'll go to sleep."
"What is this faksination with wood? Do you have only brothers?"
"Captain, the Ferengi are off the port bow and the long-range sensors show the Romulans entering the neutral zone."
Willow covered her ears with her hands, hoping to block out the noise. She looked at Tara, expecting to see some sort of similar reaction. Instead, her girlfriend was gazing at the frenzied activity and smiling. Every now and then, a giggle or quick snort of laughter would escape from the blonde. "Baby? How can you stand it?" Willow nearly shouted over the caterwauling, clamor and commotion.
What is she saying? I can't hear Tara over this noise! Wait...'The air kiss pillow. And Horton hears a Who'? Okay, that doesn't make sense.
"Tara, what are you saying? I can't hear you!"
Tara looked at her beloved and laughed. She reached over to remove Willow's hands from her ears and repeated her answer.
"They're kids, Willow. It's just what they do." She smiled at the redhead, falling even more in love with her in that moment. "You get used to it. They're good kids. You'll see."
"If you say so, Tare. I trust you."
"Are you sure? You don't have to stay in here. There's another ro-"
"I trust you."
In that moment, all of the noise went away. In that moment, Willow and Tara were the only ones in the room.
"Have I told you today that I love you?" Tara asked, her voice just above a whisper.
"Yes you have. Many times," Willow responded, her breath momentarily catching in her throat. "But I never get tired of hearing it."
Tara reached up to brush a lock of hair from Willow's brow. Her fingers traced a lingering path down the side of her girlfriend's face, stopping to cup Willow's cheek in her palm.
Willow smiled and leaned into the touch, her eyes closing briefly before returning to gaze into Tara's eyes. She watched as Tara's normally crystal blue eyes deepened into a rich, dark blue - a sure sign of her lover's building arousal. Mmm...Christmas buffet. Willow reached up to cover Tara's hand with her own and was about to take a step forward, closing the distance between their wanting lips, when a voice pierced the bubble around them.
"Are you gonna kiss?!"
The couple's eyes widened and they simultaneously looked down at the small child peering up at them.
The little girl with the eye patch and toy sword watched as a flush of red spread across the lovers' cheeks. With a hearty 'whoop' and a slash of her blade, she quickly spun on her heels and returned to the throng.
"Arrgh, matey! They're gonna kiss! Shiver me timbers!"
Willow and Tara looked at one another in astonishment and quickly broke into peels of laughter.
Tara caught her breath and 'introduced' the tyke to Willow. "That's Cameron. But everyone calls her Cam. She likes pirates. A lot. The rumor is she can quote nearly all of 'Pirates of the Caribbean.'" Upon seeing Willow's startled expression, Tara nodded and continued. "I know. Really amazing for a 7-year-old. She has a fantastic imagination too - makes up stories about pirates and acts them out with the other kids."
"Wow," Willow followed the little swashbuckler with her eyes, "that's really incredible."
"It is," Tara agreed. "But, whatever you do, don't call her 'Cammie'...she hates that."
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of someone shouting Tara's name over the din.
In the middle of the midget madness was a tall woman in her mid-thirties. At the moment, she looked like a Christmas tree decorated with kid-shaped ornaments. Little Cam had made her way onto the woman's back and was receiving a ride from a rather unwilling 'pony'. There was a string of small, plastic monkeys - interconnected by their arms - hanging from the side of the woman's eyeglasses. A girl with light brown hair was dangling from the woman's right arm. The child kept repeating the word 'boobies' over and over. To the left of the woman was a little girl with a calculator and a small, handheld chalkboard, insistently tugging on the woman's pant leg. "Miss Harley, the numbers don't add up!"
"What the frilly heck?"
Tara simply laughed at her girlfriend's exclamation and the sight before her. She turned her body slightly toward Willow, but kept her eyes focused on the raucous display. "That's Harley Davids. She's the Director of the center. She looks a bit out of her depth, doesn't she?" Tara continued to giggle at the display even as Harley's expression became more pained, desperation showing clearly in her eyes.
"Tara! Help me! Please!"
Tara reached into a side pocket of her backpack and pulled out a kazoo. She gave Willow a wink and then took a step forward. Within seconds, Tara was playing a happy tune. I know this song. I know it! I've got that damned Cher song in my head. What the hell is this song?
The room suddenly fell silent, save the humming of Tara's kazoo, as 12 pair of little eyes turned in the direction of the music. The children stilled their movements for the briefest of moments before eleven voices squealed in glee. The twelfth voice stood out from the others.
Now there's a kid with a one-track mind, Willow thought, proud of the affection her beloved clearly received from these kids. The smile on her face quickly faded as she realized that the kids - all twelve of them - were running directly toward her and Tara.
Willow grabbed the laptop carrying case slung over her shoulder and held it to her chest as if it were the Holy Grail itself. Not the laptop. I won't let you hurt my baby! She moved away from the rushing children until her back hit the wall behind her. Her eyes widened in terror as she watched the little hooligan horde rush at her Tara. "Watch out, Tara!" she called out in warning. But she wasn't heard over the sounds of the kazoo and the thoroughly giddy children.
She'll be trampled!
But Tara wasn't trampled. In fact, just as the group reached her, Tara dropped to her knees and opened her arms wide, welcoming the children to her. She made a point of hugging each child in turn, replying to excited greetings, shushing complaints about who won't share which toy, and generally enjoying being treated like a human jungle-gym.
When there had been enough hugs and hellos, Tara stood in her place at the center of the group and raised her arms in the air, pointing her fingers as if preparing to conduct an orchestra. The children silenced themselves immediately, appearing to hold their breaths for what was to come. She looked down at one of the little boys and smiled. "Chris, can you start us off, please?"
The little tyke blushed and gave Tara a shy smile. "Yes, Miss Tara," he whispered, his tone bordering on being flirtatious. He raised his hands, prepared to clap them together. However, he realized that his hands were full. In each hand he held a 6" action figure - Captain Jean Luc Picard in his right, and Counselor Deanna Troi in his left. Chris realized his difficulty instantly and made to put the toys in his pockets; he quickly met his second obstacle. More action figures were sticking out from the edges of his pockets; every pocket was full. He looked up at Tara with a chagrined expression, but it was clear that his mind was working at maximum warp. His chagrin turned to pride as he came up with the solution to his problem. Chris took a step back, clearing a small, but sufficient, space around him. He raised his foot off the ground and brought it down sharply, stomping as he called out the cadence. "Five, six, seven, eight!"
That was their cue. Tara instantly brought the kazoo to her lips and began to play; the children had perfect timing and began to sing along with the music.
"Old MacDonald had a farm, ee-I-ee-I-o, and on that farm he had some COWS, ee-I-ee-I-o..."
As they sang, the children began to move about the room, this time, at a less frantic pace. Instead of haphazardly running about, they moved in a quick, orderly fashion to the shelves along the front wall.
"...with a moo-moo here and a moo-moo there..."
Eight of the children donned paint-smattered smocks, graciously helping each other tie the closures on the back. The little girl with the calculator stood to the side to observe the others; she was smockless. She watched to make sure that the others were appropriately attired for the task ahead. "Vaulting girl" was off to the side of the group practicing punches and kicks to the rhythm of the song.
"...here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo-moo..."
In the middle of a large collection of Lincoln Logs, a girl who looked to be about eight years old began to build small structures, singing all the while. The fourth child sans smock was standing next to the little girl with the calculator, her hands clasped behind her back. She swayed back and forth as she kept in time with the song.
"Old MacDonald had a farm..."
The eight children wearing smocks headed toward the table bearing the various art supplies, finishing their rendition of the delightful tune as they arrived at their destination.
Willow still had her back pressed firmly against the wall. She watched in amazement, unable to move or speak, as chaos gave way to routine and order. Her eyes traveled from the children around the room to Tara, standing in the same spot as when the song started. The redhead was enthralled by the power Tara had over the children. They're totally enraptured by her. They'll do anything she asks. They'll follow anywhere she leads. Willow's mind was whirling. In all of their years together, she'd never seen this side of Tara. She's the friggin' Pied Piper!
"That was excellent, everyone! I'm proud of you," Tara said to the kids, speaking to them as if they were miniature adults. "Now, today is the last day to decorate your cows. You need to get them finished. Is everyone clear on that?"
Eight heads nodded in response. Seven voices spoke in unison.
"Yes, Miss Tara."
The eighth voice stood out from the rest.
Tara turned to face Willow. She gave her girlfriend a sweet smile and held out her hand, beckoning the redhead to her with one crooked finger.
Still clutching her laptop, Willow cautiously made her way to Tara's side. She took the proffered hand and smiled back at the blonde.
"Everyone, this is Willow," Tara said as she turned back to the group.
"Hi, Miss Willow!"
Willow gave the children a nervous wave with the hand that was still holding tightly to Tara's. "Hi," she replied, attempting to give them a confident smile.
Tara leaned over to whisper in Willow's ear. "Sweetie, no one is going to take your laptop from you. You don't have to hold on to it so tightly."
"What? OH!" Willow looked down to see that, indeed, her knuckles were turning white from grasping the machine. She let out a nervous laugh as she slung the carrying case over her shoulder once more. "Sorry."
"It's okay, Will," Tara assured her love before turning back to the kids. "Willow is visiting with us for the day. Do any of you mind if she comes around to see what you're doing?"
Cam was the first to speak up. "Miss Willow can come look at my cow!"
Doing her best to hold in a giggle, Tara whispered to Willow out of the side of her mouth, "Someone has a crush."
Willow blushed slightly and gave Tara look of mock admonishment. "Stop that," she whispered back. She then addressed the pint-sized buccaneer. "Thank you, Cam. That would be wonderful. I'll stop by in a bit, okay?"
Cam's face lit up and her eyes - the one that was visible, at least - sparkled in excitement. "Yay!"
Oh yeah, Someone has a big crush, Tara mused. Can't say I blame the munchkin though. "All right. Get your things and go work on your cows. I'll come around and help you in a minute. Would you like it if I turned up the Christmas music a bit so you can listen while you decorate?" A small hand waving frantically in the air caught Tara's attention. "Yes, Maru?"
"I can hear the music already, Miss Tara," the young girl enthused. "'Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas' - Burl Ives."
"You have such great hearing, Maru," Tara chuckled. "I'm going to turn it up a bit anyway so that everyone else can hear it more clearly, okay?"
"Okay, Miss Tara," little Maru answered, proud that she'd received such a compliment.
"Let's get to work then," Tara began. "The people who asked you to design such pretty cows for them will be here later to take a look. So let's try to be finished before they get here. Off you go."
Sixteen small hands grabbed at plastic bottles of paint, boxes of crayons, different colored pens, blunt-tipped scissors, Elmer's glue, and various other art supplies. Once laden with their artistic implements, the children went to their respective cows and got down to business.
"Yes, Sweetie? What's up?" Tara slipped her arm around Willow's waist and guided her toward a cabinet in the corner where the stereo was located.
Willow quirked one eyebrow and asked, "Maru?"
Tara laughed as she adjusted the volume control on the stereo. "Her name is actually Mary. But there are two Marys in this particular group. So to keep everyone from getting confused, she suggested that we call her 'Maru' instead. Apparently her brother is just two years older than she is. When she was a baby, he mispronounced her name and called her 'Maru'. It became a nickname for her."
"Oh, okay," Willow replied, satisfied with Tara's brief explanation. She was about to ask another question, but a small voice stopped her.
Tara looked down to see a 6-year-old with dark blonde hair staring up at her. She knelt down to get at eye level with the girl. "Yes, Mary?"
"Did you mean it?" Mary asked. "Are they really going to be here today?"
"Yes, I meant it," Tara answered with a knowing grin.
Little Mary traced a small pattern on the floor with her right foot; her eyes followed the movement. A moment later she glanced up at Tara through her eyelashes. "So," Mary began, "she's going to be here?"
Mary beamed. "Yippee!" she exclaimed as she broke into a celebratory dance of joy.
Tara laughed at the happy display and spared a glance at Willow. She let out a soft sigh of relief when she saw the redhead smiling at little Mary. Looks like she's starting to relax. "Mary, are you going to help me again today?"
"Oh, yes, Miss Tara!" The youngster stilled her movements and addressed Tara. "I still have three cows to look at. I might have another look at Terra's cow later. I've been thinking about her pictures and have some ideas about her abstentions." And with that, little Mary turned away from the adults and skipped toward the cow-filled stage.
Tara let a giggle escape and looked up at Willow. "I think she meant 'obsessions'."
Willow reached down to help Tara to her feet. "These kids are something else," she mused. "What was that all about?"
"Ah, little Mary," Tara chuckled. "She wants to be a therapist when she grows up and practices with the other kids in the group."
"Who is this 'she' Mary asked about?" Willow was becoming more and more fascinated with the members of the group.
"Oh, yeah. Well, Mary is quite amorous when it comes to one of the people stopping by today." Tara paused, wondering if her girlfriend wanted the full story. She noticed that Willow had her 'go on, I want to hear this' expression in place and continued. "The co-owners of that hot new publishing company made a sizeable donation to the center. They just asked that the kids design and decorate these cows for the company's Christmas display. They stop by now and then to check the progress and play with the kids. Mary has taken quite a liking to one of them."
"What little characters." Willow looked toward the stage area and observed the group for a moment before returning her gaze toward Tara. "They sure do love you, Baby," Willow said as she smiled at her girlfriend. She squeezed Tara's hand and brought it to her lips to kiss the blonde's fingers. "I can't say I blame them; they have good taste," she murmured into Tara's soft skin as she lovingly kissed each and every finger. Occasionally she wrapped her lips around a small portion of a finger, moving her tongue forward to lick the very tip. "Mmm...but you just taste good."
Tara peeked over Willow's shoulder to see if they had any curious eyes looking at them. At least Willow's back is to the kids...they can't see our hands...and...GOD...what she is doing to them. She tried to maintain a neutral expression, but it became increasingly difficult as Willow continued her thorough enjoyment of Tara-fingers. "Still looking forward to that Christmas buffet?" she breathed.
"Oh yes. Very much so," Willow replied, her voice sultry.
"Are you sure, Sweetie?"
"I wouldn't want you to have too much and get tired of having nothing but Christmas buffet."
"Never too much. Never get tired."
Mmm...Cave-Willow. Tara's eyes were locked with Willow's. She watched as the redhead's eyes darkened to a shade that was almost forest green. Her legs trembled slightly at the desire pooled in those eyes.
Neither woman blinked.
Seconds ticked by as they simply gazed at each other.
Neither woman moved.
"Kids are here."
"I want you."
"I want you too."
"I love you."
"I love you too."
Willow and Tara each took one step back and dropped their hands to their sides.
"That was close," Willow said as she released the breath she was holding.
"Yeah." Tara gave a lop-sided grin. "Let's go make sure the kids aren't painting each other rather than the cows.
The couple turned and began walking toward the group of children. Amazingly, things seemed fairly calm and under control...for the most part. "Vaulting girl" was carefully moving about the stage, stealthily making her way around the cows. Occasionally she would stop and hide behind one of the bovine creations, doing her best to blend in before peeking around the cow's rump to make sure the coast was clear. Her eyes sparkled as she spotted Cam's cow standing in the middle of an open space. She started to make her move, but a clear voice stopped her in her tracks.
"Sally!" Tara seemed to read the girl's mind. Her experience with this group had trained the blonde to anticipate what each child might say or do. This was one of those instances.
"Yes, Miss Tara?" Sally asked, trying her best to appear innocent.
"Remember our conversation about jumping over the cows? And other people?"
"But, Miss Tara!" the mini-warrior princess pouted, "Ares has captured Gabrielle and I have to save her!"
When she and Willow reached the spot where Sally was desperately trying to maintain her stoic warrior expression, Tara sat cross-legged next to the little girl and spoke gently. "Yes, Sally. I understand. I really, really do. It's so important that you save Gabrielle, isn't it?"
"Yes. It's very important," Sally insisted. "She's my best friend. Best friends are the most important things in the whole world!" She looked up at Willow, her eyes pleading, hoping for some back up. "Aren't best friends the most important?" she asked the visitor.
Willow looked to Tara for permission to participate. Receiving an affirming nod from her love, she mirrored Tara's position on the floor opposite Sally. "Yes, Sally, best friends are the most important." Willow cast a sideways glance at Tara and gave her a quick wink. Returning her attention to the little one in front of her, she continued. "But do you know what else is important?"
Sally's brow furrowed in concentration before answering. "Having many skills?"
Willow couldn't help but chuckle. "Okay, yes, that's important too. But, Sally, let me ask you something. Does Gabrielle know you're coming to save her?"
"Then what's important is that you keep yourself safe so that you can rescue her. If you hurt yourself doing dangerous things, you won't be able to save Gabrielle, and Ares will keep her forever. And you don't want that do you?"
"No way, Jose!" Sally crossed her little arms, a look of determination on her face.
"Well, there you go. You have to make sure that you don't get hurt so that you can defeat Ares and get Gabrielle back," Willow concluded. She could tell that her logic was actually registering in the girl's active mind. "And the best way to not get hurt is to keep your feet on the ground. Be smart, don't be dangerous, okay?"
Sally thought for a moment. She looked at Willow. It appeared as though she had made a decision. Sally held out her hand and waited for Willow to grasp it. She held the redhead's hand for a moment and then turned to Tara. "Miss Tara, I like her. Will you bring her back with you next time?"
Tara let out a full laugh. Whether she was laughing in happiness at the kids' acceptance of her girlfriend, or because of the wide-eyed expression on Willow's face, she wasn't sure. "Well, Sally, that's up to Willow. But I'll make sure to invite her to come back with me as often as I can, okay?"
"Yes, Miss Tara. Can I go save Gabrielle now? I promise I'll be safe."
"Yep, off you go!"
"I'll see you later, Sally," Willow called out to the girl as she turned to sneak under the legs of the closest cow.
Suddenly - and with very little grace - a body that decidedly did not belong to a child flopped onto the floor beside Tara. "I want my mommy."
Tara giggled and gave the exhausted body a playful shove. "Don't be such a wimp, Davids." She turned to Willow and gave a quick jerk of her thumb toward the newcomer. "Willow, this is Harley. She runs the place and, in turn, the kids run her," she said with a smirk before turning to face Harley and continue her introduction. "Harley, this is Willow."
"So I finally get to meet the better half, eh, Tare?" Harley gave Willow a conspiratorial wink, which clearly indicated that she was teasing, and held out her hand in greeting. "Hey, Willow. It's a pleasure. Glad Tara finally got you to stop by and check out our well-oiled operation."
Willow shook the proffered hand and smiled in greeting. "Nice to meet you, Harley."
"Well, things seem to be humming along again. Thanks, Tara. I knew I could count on you." Harley gave Tara a smile of genuine gratitude.
"No problem...but...what happened?" Tara queried. "I mean, I thought Warren and Andrew were going to be here today. I saw their names on the volunteer schedule."
"They were going to be here until..." Harley paused to glance back at little Chris. Seeing that he was thoroughly engrossed in his decorating, she continued in a hushed voice. "Until they found out that none other than Mr. Spock and Uhura were going to be at the sci-fi convention in L.A. tomorrow." She shook her head. "They didn't even call me before they left. They waited until they had driven half-way there."
"Warren and Andrew?" Willow inquired, suddenly finding and opening into the conversation. "Are they still together?"
Tara and Harley looked at Willow, then at each other, and then back at Willow. Their confusion was clearly etched on their faces. They responded in one voice.
"You said Warren and Andrew volunteer here also?" Willow waited for their answering nods. "I went to high school with them. I had no idea they were back in town."
With a quick sideways glance at Tara, Harley turned to face Willow directly, her features wrought with concern. "'Back in town'? Um, should I be worried? Their background checks came out okay, but the phrase 'back in town' is setting off my spidey senses."
"Oh! No!" Willow was quick to answer. "No, no, no. They're okay. You can calm the spidey tingles." She took a breath and collected her thoughts. Way to freak out the person in charge of the kids, Rosenberg. "How do I explain Warren and Andrew? Well, they've been a couple for as long as I can remember. And, as you've already surmised, they're sci-fi geeks in the truest sense - not that it's a bad thing! I've attended a sci-fi convention or two myself."
Tara's eyes widened at Willow's revelation. "You have? Where was I?"
"Oh this was long before I met you, Baby." Willow flashed a brilliant smile and batted her eyelashes. "I wasn't always the cool, hot yamma mamma you see before you."
Taking Willow's hand in her own, Tara giggled at her adorable girlfriend. "Well, I guess I just can't picture you as anything but my hot yamma mamma."
"Yo, Lovebirds!" Harley interrupted. "Wanna keep going with the geek-parade story? My job is on the line here."
"Oh, yeah," Willow said, turning her attention back to Harley, though not relinquishing her hold on Tara's hand. "Well, after high school, they decided to road trip across the country. They mapped out every location there had ever been a quote unquote documented UFO sighting. Their plan was to visit each site and then eventually locate and prove the existence of Area 51. But, I guess they're back now."
"So, they aren't whacked out loony nerds hell bent on, I don't know, creating some kind of laser gun that will turn them invisible so they can rob all the banks in California and generally cause havoc?" Harley questioned cautiously.
"Oh my God no!" Willow laughed at the thought. "No, they are actually very bright and quite nice. With the exception of this particular no-show faux pas, they are pretty responsible guys. And they have quite an imagination, so I'm sure they keep the kids happily occupied."
"That they do," Tara affirmed. She gave Harley a reassuring pat on the knee. "Don't worry about it, Davids. I'm sure Spock and Uhura were just too much for them to pass up. And don't worry about the kids today. I've got Willow to help me out. Everything is under control."
"Miss Harley!" An insistent voice broke into their conversation. The trio turned toward the voice and saw the little girl with the calculator and chalkboard walking rapidly toward them.
"Oh, what did I do now?" Harley mumbled under her breath.
Tara giggled and leaned over to whisper in Willow's ear. "Watch this. It should be good."
"Miss Harley, we have a problem," the youngster insisted. The seriousness of her tone was undercut by the image of the two frolicking duckies on her little cardigan. She suddenly realized there were two other adults present and quickly corrected herself. "I'm sorry. I've forgotten my manners. Grandpa would be cross." She turned first to Tara. "Hello, Miss Tara. Nice to see you again." Then she turned to Willow. "It's lovely to meet you, Miss Willow. I'm called Watty."
"It's very nice to meet you too, Watty," Willow said with a smile. "That's an interesting name."
"Oh, it's not my real name. I don't like my real name. I do think it's quite silly."
"I see." Willow resisted the urge to giggle, instead donning an expression of sincere solemnity.
"Pardon me, but I do need to speak with Miss Harley." Watty gave Willow a quick, yet earnest smile and turned her attention to the director. "Miss Harley, according to my figures, we will need three more bottles of blue paint and two more bottles of red paint - it looks like Cam just wants nothing but red all of a sudden. But we only have one bottle of blue paint on the art table. Can you help me find more?"
"Woot! A problem I can solve!" Harley enthused as she jumped to her feet. "We have some more in the supply closet, Watty. I'll go get it and bring it over to you, okay?"
"Oh, yes. Thank you, Miss Harley."
Just as Harley left on her quest for more blue paint, Willow's attention was captured by the sudden weight on her back. Small arms wound around her neck from behind, holding fast, as matching small legs wrapped around her torso. Now I'm the pony? She turned her head to see the load she'd acquired and met Sally's beaming smile.
"Hi, Miss Willow!"
Willow chuckled and tickled the backs of little knees. "Well, hi there, Sally. Did you save Gabrielle?"
"I did! And that Ares is toast!"
"Way to go, Sally."
"Miss Willow, Miss Tara, did you know that there are twelve of us kids but only eight cows? That means that 66% of us are getting to decorate the cows." Sally looked at the adults with a great sense of pride. "We're learning percentages in school."
Watty stepped forward to address the small group. "Actually, Sally, eight is 66.6666667% of twelve. So, if you were to round up, it's actually 67%." She held out her little calculator with the resulting computation clearly displayed.
Sally stuck her tongue out at Watty, scrunching up her little nose in the process. "Dork." She jumped off Willow's back and gave her a quick pat on the shoulder. "Gotta go! I'm sure Joxer is getting into trouble somewhere." And with that, she was off again.
Willow looked at Watty, expecting to see a hurt expression on the girl's face. "I'm sure she didn't mean that, Watty."
The little number cruncher giggled, obviously not affected by Sally's name-calling. "Oh, she did. But it's okay. She's almost right. I'm actually a nerd. I can't help it...I like numbers." Watty shrugged her shoulders and smiled as she placed her calculator back in her pocket. "Well, I should keep checking on the others to make sure they will finish on time. Goodbye Miss Tara, Miss Willow."
Watty turned and made her way back to the stage. Her trek was brought to an abrupt halt when Sally leapt directly into Watty's path. The two exchanged words that went unheard by the others in the room, and then broke into a fit of giggles. They grabbed each other's hand and, together, skipped toward the rest of the group.
Willow shook her head and laughed quietly. "These kids are a riot, Tare."
"That they are," Tara giggled in response as she stood up and held out her hand to Willow. "Come on. Let's go take a look at the cows."
They made the first stop on their tour through the makeshift pasture. A girl, who looked to be the youngest of the group, sat next to her cow, carefully drawing. A small cradle with three dolls in it was on her left. As she drew, she talked to the dolls, her free hand gently rocking the cradle.
"Hi, Emmy," Tara greeted the girl and knelt down, inviting Willow to do the same. "How are things going? Will you finish soon?"
"Oh yes," said and smiled at Tara and Willow. "I'm almost done. I just need a couple more flowers." She never stopped rocking the cradle.
"Wonderful, Emmy. What story were you telling your babies today?" Tara asked.
"A story about friends - you know I always use the same two friends - but this time they can do magic. They use the magic to make the flowers grow..."
As Emmy recounted her story for Tara, Willow took the opportunity to look closely at the designs on the cow. There were two dominating illustrations - landscapes. On one side of the cow, Emmy had rather skillfully created what appeared to be an arctic wonderland. She had drawn snowcapped mountain ranges from the cow's shoulder to its rump. At the base of the mountains, Emmy painted everything white. Snow, Willow surmised. On the rump was a large, rather realistic moon hovering over the mountains. Appropriate place to put the moon, Willow chuckled to herself. She bent down to look more closely at the painting and was amazed at the technique. She painted the reflection of the moon in the snow! Willow poked her head over the back of the cow to look at Emmy. The youngster was still telling her story, all the while rocking the cradle with one hand and drawing with the other. She can't be more than five...six at the most.
Willow returned to her spot kneeling next to Tara. Emmy seemed to be nearing the end of her tale.
"...so when she found the gooses that her daddy made for her, she knew that her daddy really did love her. And she felt better and didn't get as sad when she thought about him after that."
Tara clapped softly when Emmy finished speaking and glanced at Willow. She was pleased to see the redhead applauding as well. "Emmy, what a wonderful story!"
"Thank you, Miss Tara," the girl whispered, a blush swiftly coloring her cheeks. "May I go change my babies' diapers? I think they tinkled."
"Sure, Emmy. Be careful." Tara grinned as Emmy expertly picked up all three dolls and carried them toward a corner of the room.
"She's really good, Baby," Willow whispered when Emmy was out of earshot. "Did you see the arctic landscape on the other side?"
"I have seen it." Tara smiled at the wide-eyed look of amazement on Willow's face. "And, yes, she is really good. And her talents are so diverse: she paints and draws; she can use chalk, pencils, pens, or crayon all to stunning effect; and, for a five and a half year old, her depictions of people are surprisingly realistic." Tara nodded her head toward the cow. "And on top of everything, her art tells a story."
Willow turned to look at the drawing Emmy was working on moments earlier. Again, the image covered the cow's entire side. It was clearly a farm - two-story house at the end of a gravel driveway, a barn connected to a pasture where a few horses were grazing, further in the distance there was a field of golden wheat. The image that seemed to draw the most focus, however, was the field of sunflowers.
The flowers on the left side were dry and haggard; they were dying. As Willow's eyes traveled across the floral illustration, she noticed that they gradually took on more vibrancy - the colors became richer, the stalks got taller, the flowers themselves got bigger. At the far right side, where the sunflowers seemed most alive, Emmy had drawn two girls, teenagers, holding hands and looking at the field. There were little sparks where their hands were joined and a bright glow surrounded them. Magic.
"Wow," was all Willow could say. It was one of the few times that anything other than Tara's lips pressed against her own had left her speechless.
Emmy returned a moment later, obviously an expert at quickly and efficiently changing her babies' diapers. She settled the three dolls back into the crib and once again took her place beside the cow, ready to complete her creation.
"You're doing very well, Emmy," Tara told the girl.
"Thank you, Miss Tara." Little Emmy beamed, pleased with the praise. "I'm going to tell my babies another story. This one is about two girls who don't like each other at first. Their families have been fighting each other just forEVER. But when they meet each other, they know that they just have to be friends."
"That's sounds lovely, Sweetie," Tara said with a smile. "We're going to go check on the others now. Let me know if you need anything, okay?"
"Yes, Miss Tara."
Willow and Tara wandered around the stage, observing the children as they concentrated on their creations. Willow was absolutely in awe. She'd always known that Tara loved children. It was one of the things she loved about the blonde. But this was the first time Willow had actually seen Tara interact with kids. She glows, Willow thought, stealing sideways glances at her girlfriend. There's so much pride in her eyes when she looks at them. It's as if they're her kids.
"Arrgh, Miss Willow!" Cam's voice brought Willow out of her reverie. "Come look at my cow, matey."
"Go ahead, Sweetie," Tara chuckled, giving Willow a playful nudge. "Your new girlfriend wants to show off a bit."
"Oh shush," Willow whispered and gave Tara a mock glare.
Tara laughed and gave Willow a quick kiss on the cheek. "It's okay, Will. I know you're coming with me at the end of the day."
Willow's breath caught in her throat and she closed her eyes. "Oh God, Tara," she breathed, her voice barely a whisper.
Realizing what she'd just said, Tara's eyes widened in embarrassment. "Home! You're coming home with me." Tara's face was a particularly bright shade of scarlet.
"You've got that right, Baby." Willow took a deep breath and willed her heartbeat to slow down. She looked directly into Tara's eyes. "You're the only one I'm coming...home...with." Her features scrunched in thought for a moment. "And, you know, that sentence was constructed very badly. I mean, I know it's okay these days to end a sentence with a preposition, but it still just doesn't feel right to me. On the other hand, 'the only one with whom I'm coming' seems to be even more awkward, doesn't it? And, well, it definitely doesn't sound sexy at all. But, oh Baby, you are certainly very, very sexy and I guess I just lose all proper language skills when you're around, which is pretty much all the time. So it's amazing that I'm ever able to form complete sentences at all and maybe I should just shut up now because I'm starting to think more and more about partaking in a particularly delectable Christmas buffet and I don't think this is the appropriate time."
Tara simply smirked at her love. "Wow, Will...you didn't even pass out. I'm proud of you." She chortled when Willow gave her a playful slap on the arm. "Get going, Sweetheart. Davey Jones Junior over there is going to think you're ignoring her. I'll check on the other kids."
Willow watched as Tara walked toward one of the other children. A small body wrapping itself around her leg quickly gained her attention. She looked down to see that Cam had a firm grasp on her right leg and was looking up at Willow with a wide smile.
"Come down here, Miss Willow...you're too tall," Cam suggested.
"Sorry about that, Cam," Willow responded as she gently dropped to the floor next to the pint-sized pirate. She sat Indian-style, facing Cam's cow. Grasping the girl around her waist, Willow picked Cam up easily and settled the child on her lap. "Now, let's take a look at your cow."
Cam's cow was a veritable potpourri of images and colors. Though, it seemed as though one color in particular was beginning to dominate the design. Watty was right...Cam is into red today.
For her part, little Cam settled happily onto Willow's lap, snuggling up to the redhead.
Cam's cow was covered in stick figure drawings of various sizes. The pictures seemed to be different representations of the same person, as evidenced by the freshly painted red hair on each stick figure.
"Cam, are those drawings supposed to be me?"
The little girl's face quickly turned red. "Yes, Miss Willow," she answered in a shy whisper. Cam looked up at Willow and continued with a great deal of sincerity. "I think you're pretty. So, I wanted to put you on my cow."
Willow wrapped her arms around the tyke and hugged her tightly. "Thank you, Cam. That's very sweet of you." She smiled as she felt Cam wiggle with glee. "Would you tell me about the pictures?"
"Okay!" Cam bounced on Willow's lap, clearly excited at the prospect of sharing her vision with the beautiful redhead. As she talked, she pointed out each of the drawings. "That one is you as a cowboy...you know...like in the old west with the Indians. It kinda makes you look like a boy, but you're still pretty...so it's okay. That one over there is you as a shy girl. It doesn't really look like it, but that's a fuzzy, pink sweater. I couldn't get the color right. Oh! This one is you as an evil person. See? You're wearing all black; bad people wear all black. And over here, that's you as a spy. But you're not really a spy...people just think you are. You're really just a normal girl going to school." Cam looked up at Willow to make sure the object of her puppy love understood what she meant. "But that one over there is my favoritest."
Of course, Willow thought as she gazed at the final drawing. Me as a pirate. The stick figure in question was larger than the others. The shock of red hair on the drawing's head seemed to be blowing in the wind. An eye patch matching the one little Cam was wearing covered pirate-Willow's left eye. In her right hand, she held a sword - at least Willow assumed it was a sword. She's only seven, Rosenberg! Of course it's a sword. Get your mind out of the gutter. The two-dimensional pirate stood on the deck of a ship. A flag with a crude image of a skull and crossbones flew from the tallest mast.
"Cam, this is just great! I really, really like it." Willow looked down at the beaming grin on Cam's face. "Thank you so much for drawing me."
"You're welcome, Miss Willow."
The pair's conversation was interrupted when Tara called out to Willow.
"Be right there, Tare," Willow responded before turning her attention back to the girl on her lap. "I've got to go, Cam. I'm really honored that you put me on your cow." There's a sentence I'll probably never use again in my whole life. "I'll be back later, okay?"
Cam jumped up and threw her arms around Willow's neck. "Okay, Miss Willow. Thank you for looking at my cow."
Willow stood up and watched Cam take up her paintbrush laden with red paint before turning to join Tara. She made her way across the stage, careful not to step in any paint - or on a small child. She saw Tara sitting next to the boy with the laptops. He seemed frustrated.
"What's up, Tare?" she inquired, plopping down next to her girlfriend.
"Willow, this is Justin. He's having a bit of a problem and I thought you could help him."
"Me?" This is art stuff! She glanced down at the boy; he was looking at her with a hopeful expression.
Tara nodded her head. "Uh huh." She pointed at Justin's cow.
At first glance, Willow thought Justin was using a Spider-man theme - Great! I'm gonna be humming that song all day now. - there were dozens of lines spanning the cow's body, criss-crossing randomly. Willow looked more carefully and suddenly realized why her help was needed.
"Ah, I see," she said, smiling at Tara.
"Can you help, Miss Willow?" Little Justin asked.
"I'll sure try."
At the ends and intersections of the lines, Justin had drawn little computers of all sorts: laptops, PCs, Macs. Each of the miniature monitors had the same image - a decorated Christmas tree.
"Well, it looks like you're trying to build a network, right?"
"Quite right!" Justin beamed. "You're the only one who figured that out. You're ever so smart." Realizing that his words must have sounded rude, Justin turned to Tara with an apologetic expression. "Oh, I'm sorry, Miss Tara. I don't mean that you're dumb. You're very smart too. But, you don't like computers much, do you?"
Tara giggled and ruffled Justin's mop of hair. "It's okay. I know you don't think I'm dumb. And I like computers fine. It's just that I don't know lot about them. That's why I asked Willow to help you."
Justin let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, good. I wouldn't want you to not be my friend because you thought that I think that you're not smart." His brow furrowed for a moment. "That didn't make sense, did it?"
"Of course it did, Justin," Willow assured the boy. "Trust me, Miss Tara understands me when I babble, so understanding everyone else is a snap, right, Tare?"
"Yep! Absolutely right."
"Alrighty then, Justin, let's see what you've got here." Willow looked closely at Justin's web of artistic technology.
"My problem is the wires and cables, I think. I always use too many. I ran out with my real computers," Justin explained.
Computers? How many computers can this kid have? Oh, wait, the toy laptops he was playing with...that's right. "Is that why you were using the monkeys?"
"Yes. I borrowed my sister's Barrel of Monkeys, but they don't work."
Willow held in a giggle. "Mmm...yeah. I can see where that would be a problem."
Tara watched as Willow interacted with Justin. She had to smile as she thought about how wonderful Willow had been all day. The kids are so taken with her...I expected that, she mused. I just never thought Willow would fall in love with them. Tara had often wondered what kind of parent Willow would be. Would it come naturally to her? Would she be happy? Tara believed she had her answer. Oh yeah, definitely a fabulous parent...hmm...maybe...
"Oh, I know!" Willow's exclamation brought Tara out of her musings. "Justin, I've solved the problem."
Justin looked at Willow with wide, expectant eyes. "Really?"
"Really," Willow confirmed with a quick nod. "You, my friend, need a wireless gateway."
Justin turned his eyes toward the cow and cocked his head to one side, as if trying to visualize Willow's solution. Soon he straightened up and clapped his hands. "That's it! I can paint over all the wires and cables and then right there," he pointed at the center of the cow, "I can have my main server - a PC, I think - and the gateway can be connected there." He jumped up from his spot on the floor, spun around a couple of times, let out a joyous "whoop" and fell back to the floor, smiling all the while. "Thank you, Miss Willow."
"I was having an awful time trying to fix it. But now it will be easy."
"Sometimes, it just takes a fresh set of eyes to find the problem," Tara offered, happy she had something useful to add.
"Well, I couldn't use my regular way to fix things."
Willow was intrigued. "What's your regular way?"
"Oh, I turn it upside down. But the cow was too big...and I don't know how to stand on my head..." Justin's voice trailed off at the end of the sentence.
"Hey now," Willow blurted out, seeing that Justin seemed embarrassed by his lack of cranial balancing skills. "We've just designed a super network! No poopy feelings." She leaned toward Justin, as if sharing a secret, and whispered, "Besides, I don't know how to stand on my head either," and then winked at the little hacker.
Little Justin's eyes grew wide and he broke into a huge smile. "Wait one moment!" He turned and scrambled a few feet away, reaching for his Power Rangers laptop case. He dug around in the bottom of the bad for a few seconds until he found what he was looking for. Justin walked on his knees back to Willow and Tara and held out a hand to each of them. "These are for you...for being so helpful."
Willow and Tara each held out a hand to receive the offering. They looked down to see that Justin had deposited a large piece of chocolate - wrapped in decorative holiday foil - on each of their palms.
"Thank you!" the women said in unison, eliciting a giggle from the young boy.
"You're welcome. Now, off you go. You need to talk to everyone else and I have a network to install." Justin smiled at the adults and then readied himself to get to work.
"You know, Will," Tara said as they moved on, "he'll be out of college in about 12 or 13 years..."
"Way ahead of you, Baby," Willow interrupted with a grin. "I'm already mentally preparing the 'Vice President of Networking' sign for his office door."
They stopped a few feet away from the area where Chris was working. He sat amongst a large collection of action figures: Star Trek, Babylon 5, Star Wars, various comic book characters and one Barbie. Mixed in with the toys were pictures snipped from books, magazines, comics, newspapers and coloring books. At that moment, Chris was using a small pair of blunt-tipped scissors to carefully cut around Lara Croft's shapely figure. Then, without preamble, he cut her head off.
Willow looked at the scene, shocked.
Chris picked up a small bottle of glue and turned to his cow. He began to paste the cut-out images to the side of his bovine canvas. Willow noticed that he occasionally switched the heads and bodies, mixing and matching to create truly unique pictures.
"Another storyteller," Willow mumbled.
"What do you mean, Sweetie?"
"Look at what he's doing, Tare," Willow urged, directing Tara's attention to the designs. "By manipulating the images, he's creating little stories."
Tara studied Chris and his cow for a few moments. She's right!
Chris's cow was covered with various images, each made by juxtaposing parts pictures. He'd used the heads of women in bunny costumes on bodies belonging to Supergirl and Lara Croft. Confederate soldiers were walking through a field of cotton; a woman standing on the plantation house veranda looked on. A pair of shapely legs emerged from underneath a classic Chevy pick-up in the process of being restored. A woman lying under a waterfall, the water covering her body, while another woman looked on. Lara Croft's head was on Seven of Nine's body. And, oddly enough, there was a platypus with a laser strapped to its back.
"You know, Will...I think I'd like to hear some of those stories."
"Me too, Baby." Willow wiggled her eyebrows. Oh yeah...Tara dressed like Supergirl...yummy...mmm...Christmas buffet.
Willow's thoughts were interrupted when she noticed a movement out of the corner of her eye.
The little girl with the mammary mania walked over and tugged on Tara's pant leg. "Miss Tara?" The girl extended her arms and raised them toward Tara - the international sign for "I want to be picked up."
The blonde leaned down and lifted the girl into her arms. "Hi, Terra. Are you okay?" She adjusted the small girl so that Terra was resting on her hip.
Little Terra threw her arms around Tara's neck and squeezed as hard as she could. "Yes, I'm good," she assured before pulling out of the embrace. "I just wanted to hug you."
"Well, thank you. It was a very nice hug."
Terra looked at Willow, her eyes sparkling. "Miss Willow, isn't Miss Tara the nicest and prettiest lady ever?"
Willow gently pinched the little tyke's nose and laughed. "Definitely."
"She has nice boobies too."
Tara blushed furiously, but spared a glance at Willow, gauging the redhead's reaction and wondering how she would respond to the declaration.
Okay, Rosenberg...keep it simple, Willow told herself as she rubbed her chin thoughtfully and looked at her girlfriend. She dropped her hands and rested them on her hips. "Yes, she does," she agreed. Can't get simpler than that. When little Terra turned away from her to give Tara another hug, Willow mouthed "very nice" so that only the blonde could see. She was pleased when Tara turned a deeper shade of red.
Little Terra wiggled her fingers at Willow, a clear request for the redhead to move closer. When Willow was close enough for Terra's liking, the little girl leaned over, cupping her hand around Willow's ear, and whispered, "I'm gonna marry her someday." Naturally, the six-year-old's whisper was loud enough for Tara to hear the pronouncement.
Tara looked into her lover's eyes and immediately knew what Willow's response would be. Oh, Terra, I hope Willow doesn't break your little heart.
A sweet smile graced Willow's features. She gazed lovingly at Tara before turning to the little one in the blonde's arms. "Well, Kiddo, I hate to tell you this, but you're gonna have to get in line behind me. I have dibs." Willow ruffled the girl's hair good-naturedly.
Terra gave a cute pout and looked from Willow to Tara. She thought for a moment and then shrugged her shoulders. "Oh well, that's okay. My gay boyfriend would be sad if I married someone else." The youngster gave Tara one more hug and then asked to be put down. "I need to get something for my cow," she gushed and ran over to Chris.
Willow and Tara watched as Chris looked up at little Terra and gave the girl a welcoming smile.
"Chris, can I have some of your pretty pictures for my cow?"
"Uh huh," the boy said, pointing at a pile of snapshots. "Those are the ones I'm not using. I'm almost done, anyway."
"Yay! Thank you!" little Terra enthused as she spent a moment rifling through the pictures. When she had made her choices, she returned to her cow.
Not wishing to disturb Terra as she set back to work, Willow and Tara moved a bit to the side of the area and looked at Terra's cow.
"Why am I not surprised?" Willow whispered to Tara, letting out a quiet giggle.
Tara chuckled and murmured, "Probably for the same reason I'm not surprised."
There were breasts everywhere: large breasts, small breasts, stick figures with full orbs at the chest area, perky breasts, sagging breasts and every other kind of breast imaginable.
At the moment, little Terra was filling the blank spaces on her cow with the pictures Chris had given to her. Naturally, she had chosen images of women whose breasts were prominently displayed.
"Terra," a confident voice spoke, "you need to fix a few of those." Maru had walked over and knelt down beside the other little girl, pointing at one of the stick figures. "Look, the right one is bigger than the left one. It's not sim-, sem-, symmitricycle...it's not even."
Terra cocked her head to one side and looked at the image closely. "Yep, you're right. I'll fix it," she said determinedly and then turned to Maru. "Do you see any more?"
The two children chatted for a few more moments, Maru pointing out trouble spots and suggesting how to make alterations. Terra thanked her friend for the help and settled in to sort out the unbalanced bosoms.
Maru sauntered back to her own creation and resumed her work, humming as she worked. Every once in a while, she would pause for a fraction of a second, cease all humming and movement, and then murmur the title and artist of whatever song happened to be wafting through the room. She would then add that information to her cow. As it was, the bovine was covered in a bevy of holiday tunes. Maru mainly stuck to carefully writing out whatever Christmas carol she heard coming through the speakers in the large rec room. Though, interspersed throughout the words, were little images that seemed fitting with the songs. A sleigh being pulled by eight reindeer - or what appeared to be reindeer...if you squinted your eyes - accompanied "Here Comes Santa Clause". A brightly decorated Christmas tree was surrounded by the lyrics to "O Tannenbaum." Next to "Joy to the World," Maru had drawn a picture of a smiling Earth.
Willow smiled when she noticed the drawing of a dreidel. "She's a smart kid, Tare. Not only does she know the German lyrics to 'O Tannenbaum,' she's astute enough to include 'The Dreidel Song.'"
Tara chuckled as she led Willow to another area of the stage. "Yeah, she is. And I always get a kick out of how she and Terra work together. It's really cute."
They stopped next to a cow that had drawings and cut out pictures of all sorts of holiday plants and flowers. Poinsettias seemed to dominate the space. Next to one particularly large picture of a deep red poinsettia were facts, myths and care instructions for the favored holiday plant.
"Hi, Janna," Tara said as she knelt next to the girl studiously decorating the cow. "How are things going here?"
"Oh, just fine, Miss Tara," Janna answered with a smile. "I'm finished, actually...have been for a while. I'm just touching things up and making sure it's okay since I have some extra time."
"That's great, Janna." Tara invited Willow to join them on the floor and then introduced her to the young girl. "Willow, this is Janna. She is our ten-year-old botanical expert."
"Nice to meet you, Janna. I was looking at what you put on the cow...you do know quite a lot about plants and flowers." Willow grinned at the youngster, reminded of her own love of science as a child.
"Yes, but not as much as I'd like to. I'm still learning," Janna said and frowned slightly. Her eyes suddenly lit up and she addressed both adults, "Did you know that poinsettias aren't really poisonous? Everyone thinks they are, but they're not. Oh! And everyone thinks the big red leaves make the flower, but they don't. They're just leaves. The actual flower is the tiny part in the middle of the leaves. Did you know that, Miss Willow?"
Yep, definitely like me as a kid. "I didn't know that, Janna. But I'm glad you told me. That's very interesting."
"Mistletoe is even more interesting, Miss Willow." Janna turned her body so that she could face Willow and Tara directly. "You see, a long, long time ago, people thought that mistletoe grew right out of bird poop!" She scrunched up her face as if she smelled the poop as she spoke. "And lots of birds pooped on small tree branches. The original name for it was 'misteltan'. So, breaking down the word: 'mistel' means 'dung'...or poop...and 'tan' means 'twig'. Mistletoe actually means 'dung-on-a-twig.' Kinda makes you think twice before kissing someone under it, huh?" Janna giggled at her own joke.
Willow and Tara giggled right along with the girl.
"You're right, that is interesting, Janna," Tara chimed in. "I think your cow looks lovely. You keep looking it over and we're going to see how everyone else is doing. Okay?"
"Okay!" And with that, Janna turned back to add some finishing touches to sprigs of holly, one festively positioned between the cow's crossed eyes.
"I just can't help thinking about how amazing these kids are, Tara," Willow enthused with wide eyes. "I mean, they're just so creative and inspiring."
Tara smiled lovingly at Willow and took the redhead's hand as they continued on through the holiday pasture. "I know, Sweetie. That's why I love coming here. So much of my own writing and art comes from them."
"Hey, Miss Tara!" Another young voice cut through the general clatter of the room. "C'mere and look at what I've done!"
"Willow, this is Debra," Tara said as the two approached the girl. "So what are you up to, Debra?"
"Well, I think I'm just about done with my cow, actually," Debra said with a proud smile.
"Fabulous, Debra! That's great." Tara turned to Willow and directed her girlfriend's attention toward the cow in front of them. "Debra is another of our storytellers, Will. Often her tales reach epic proportions; they're quite grand."
"Yes, I like putting together an interesting story. I've gotten pretty good at it; I've been practicing for a while." Debra took Willow and Tara's hands in her own and drew them closer to her creation. "I've written a story to put on the cow. Because of the nature of the project, I had to put in illustrations as well. I usually just work with words. But I guess I needed to do a bit more for this one."
"Well, what's the story about, Deb?" Willow asked and then quickly realized her use of the abbreviated moniker. "Oh, is it okay if I call you 'Deb'? I mean, I shouldn't have just assumed that was okay. I'm sorry. I hope I didn't offend you."
"No, it's okay," Debra assured the redhead. "I don't mind being called Deb. Just, please, don't ever call me Debbie. I really don't like it at all. And also please remember that it's 'Debra' - D-E-B-R-A. It's not "Deborah" - D-E-B-O-R-A-H. It's never ever 'Debbie' or 'Deborah'." She looked directly into Willow's eyes, giving the woman a "do I make my self clear?" look that would broach no argument.
"'Debra' or 'Deb' it is. Gotcha," Willow agreed, her expression the epitome of seriousness.
Tara stifled a laugh and did her best to mirror the look on Willow's face.
"Good. Thank you. Now then," Debra said, turning their attention to the literary bovine before them, "this particular story is one of my better ones. You see this girl here?" She pointed to a small drawing of a young girl standing alone, looking sad and forlorn. "Well, her best friend died. And she was just torn up about it. She had many other friends, but none like the one who died. She decided that she just had to be with her friend again."
"Oh, that's so sad, Debra," Tara whispered.
Willow moved behind Tara and wrapped her arms around the blonde's waist, holding her tightly. She placed her chin on Tara's shoulder and whispered in her ear, "It's okay, Baby...I'll bet Debra made sure there's a happy ending."
"You're right, Miss Willow," little Debra assured, "there is a happy ending. But they have to go through some tough stuff first. Now, let me tell you the rest."
Tara ran her hands along Willow's forearms as she smiled down at the dark-haired girl. "Sorry, Debra, please go on."
For her part, Willow was basking in the feel of Tara's body against her own. If the truth were told, she wanted nothing more than to drag her girlfriend into an empty room and ravish her completely. Mmm...Want Christmas buffet...Want it now...Whoa! Cool it, Rosenberg! There's plenty of time for that. Tara won't run out of buffet...Tara...buffet...yummy...want...UGH! Enough. Focus on the kids. The story...Debra's telling her story. Pay attention.
"...and since she was a Wicca, she knew there had to be some kind of spell that would help her be with her friend again. She remembered a time when another version of herself and her friend showed up in her world. So the girl immediately looked for the spell that would let her go to the other world to find her friend. When she got to the other world, she found her friend, but her friend was different. She seemed sad sometimes. But she recognized the girl from when she went into the other world. They just really didn't know much about each other. I mean, the girl knew about her friend that died, and this version of her friend was very similar, but she was still different, you know?"
"Yeah," Willow said, still peeking over Tara's shoulder. "That makes sense. They've lived different lives...the friend and her double that is."
"Exactly! Oh! Look at this part!" Debra pointed to a section of the story. The girl and her friend were sitting at a table. At another table were two other people. "Those two right there, at the table in the back, that's me and my best friend, Rachel." She looked up at Willow and Tara, a bright smile on her face. "I wrote myself and Rachel into the story! I'm in the story!"
"That's neat, Debra," Tara enthused. "So, what happens with the girl and her friend?"
"Oh, well, lots of things happen. After a while, they really do become best friends. So the girl is very happy that she's found her friend again. But, it's not just that she found her friend, it's that she found another best friend who is very much like her original best friend. So, she decides that she will never leave and spend the rest of her life being with her friend."
"Wow!" Willow looked at the girl in awe. "How old are you, Debra? Is it okay that I ask?"
"Oh sure. I'm nine and a half."
"That is a really great story, Debra. Do you think if you ever write it down on paper that I can have a copy to read all the way through?" Willow felt Tara grasp her forearms and squeeze, indicating that she'd asked a good question.
"Yeah, I can do that. I was gonna write it all down anyway, since it's my best story and all. I have a computer at home," Debra said, again smiling with pride. "It's a really good computer too. And my big sister got me a really neat printer. So I'll print it for you and bring it to Miss Tara so she can give it to you."
"Well," Willow began, giving Tara a quick, sideways glance, "how about if I come back sometime and you can give it to me yourself?"
Tara's breath caught in her throat and she felt her heart flutter. Come back. She wants to come back. Just when I thought I couldn't love her any more...
"Sure!" Debra cried as she gave a little leap of happiness. "That would be great. I'll try to have another story for you when you come back."
"Thanks, Debra." Willow reached down with one hand and patted the youngster on her head.
Tara, on the other hand, broke away from Willow's hold on her to scoop Debra into her arms and give the child a big hug. "Yes, thank you, Debra."
Debra gave Tara a quizzical look as she was released from the embrace, but shrugged it off as a silly grown-up thing. "Yeah, sure, no problem. I'm gonna finish now."
Willow and Tara turned away and surveyed the room. The children who had completed their creations were huddled together in groups, playing various games or simply talking and teasing each other. Mary and Watty were individually walking around observing their surroundings: Mary was looking carefully at Terra's cow and then glancing at the artist responsible. She seemed to be contemplating Terra's 'abstentions'. Watty, however, was busy counting the images on each cow and dutifully recording each number on her small chalkboard. As for Sally, well, she seemed to be on another mission to save Gabrielle from any number of dangers.
"Yo, B, check it out. All of the midgets are present and accounted for." The voice caught Willow and Tara's attention.
Standing at the open door to the rec room were two newcomers: one a petite blonde, with perfect hair, perfect clothes and perfect...well...everything; the other a dark haired woman in black jeans, a black t-shirt, and a black denim jacket.
"Miss Faith!" a young voice squealed in delight.
Tara laughed outright as she and Willow watched little Mary bolt across the room and throw herself at the dark woman, nearly knocking them both to the ground. "That's Faith and Buffy," Tara explained. "They own 'The Chosen, The Rogue, and The Stylish but Affordable Wardrobe'."
"Wait...they own that new publishing company?" Willow asked incredulously. "I don't believe it."
Willow walked quickly toward the women still standing at the open door. "Buffy? Is that really you?"
The blonde in question turned at the sound of her name being called. A look of delighted surprise appeared on her face. "Oh my God. Willow!" she cried as she moved to pull the redhead into a huge hug. "What the heck are you doing here?"
"I live here...well, not here at the youth center here...but here in Sunnydale," Willow answered, returning the embrace with gusto. "What are you doing here? I thought you lived in New York?" She pulled away from the blonde and held Buffy at arm's length.
"I did, until I got sick of trudging through snow. I've always been a California girl."
"Will?" Tara asked as she walked up to what she assumed to be a reunion. "You know Buffy?"
Willow reached out to her love and wrapped an arm around Tara's waist. "Yeah, Buffy and I went to school together right up until sophomore in high school. Then her family moved to New York." She turned to Buffy and glared. "And she has a real problem with writing letters and keeping in touch. I haven't heard from her in years."
Buffy had the decency to blush in embarrassment. "Ah, c'mon, Will. You know I was never a big fan of writing. Reminded me too much of homework."
"Hey, Tare," Faith said as she joined the group, a mini-therapist attached to her midsection. "B, you gonna introduce me to Red, or what?"
"Oh, sorry. Faith this is Willow. Willow...Faith."
Willow held out her hand to the brunette in greeting. "Hi, Faith, nice to meet you."
"Ditto, Red," Faith drawled. She looked down at little Mary, who was currently burrowing in the older woman's cleavage. "You know, I love this kid. Think I can keep her?" she said laughingly.
"Oh yes! You can keep me, Miss Faith!" Mary cried, tightening her grip and nestling further into Faith's arms.
"You sure have a way with the women, Faith," Tara chuckled.
Faith just smiled and moved little Mary so the tyke settled on her shoulders. "I do what I can, T."
All four women looked down at the new arrival to the group. A dark-haired girl who looked to be about eight years old stood at Buffy's side, cautiously tapping the blonde's knee.
"Miss Buffy, will you come play Lincoln Logs with me?" the girl asked. "Chris let me use some of his dolls...we can play with them too."
"Sure, Cyd," Buffy said and then looked to the others in the group. "Hey, you guys wanna come play too? Cyd is really great with wood and..." Her voice trailed off as she realized the implications of her words. "And, you know, that didn't sound as bad in my head."
Faith just laughed and shook her head. "You go on, B. I know how you feel about wood. I'm gonna go check out the cows." She turned her head to look up at the passenger who was still on her shoulders. "Wanna go see the rump roasts, kid?" The smile and whoop of joy from Mary gave Faith all the answer she needed. "Alright, let's go!"
Willow and Tara joined Buffy on the floor next to Cyd's Lincoln Log creation. It was an impressive structure, to say the least. Little Cyd had created a wooden fortress, complete with small trees borrowed from a Christmas village display.
"Okay, Cyd, what are we going to play?" Buffy asked.
Cyd handed Buffy the Wonder Woman action figure she'd borrowed from Chris and kept Jayna, the female half of the Wonder Twins, for herself. "Well, Jayna is trapped inside the fortress. She's been there for years as a servant to the evil Giganta." Cyd pointed to the evil action figure painstakingly posed to sit upright on a throne made of miniature pixie sticks. Suddenly, Cyd made a loud "whooshing" sound and knocked down a most of the structures surrounding the fortress. "But these bad guys came and destroyed everything. And Giganta took off, leaving Jayna to fend for herself." With that, Cyd picked up the Giganta doll and unceremoniously tossed her aside, out of sight.
"Okay," Buffy said as she assessed the situation, "so, you're Jayna. What does Wonder Woman have to do?"
Cyd looked up at Buffy with wide, unbelieving eyes. "Wonder Woman comes down and saves Jayna, of course. She makes Jayna see that everything will be okay. And they become very good friends while they wait for the rest of the Super Friends to come get them and take them away from the fortress." She rolled her eyes at the blonde, as if the answer to the question was obvious.
"Ah, got it." Buffy stole a glance at Willow and Tara and winked. "Cyd and I are gonna play for a bit before the parents show up. You might want to make sure Faith isn't corrupting Mary...or the other way around."
Tara simply nodded and laughed as she took Willow's hand. "You're right. We need to save those two from each other. C'mon, Will."
As Willow and Tara walked around the rec room, they noticed that all of the kids had finished decorating their cows and were currently engaging in other forms of amusement. Most of them were dog piled on Faith, who seemed to love every minute of it. The couple sat on a small bench against the wall, holding hands and surveying the room.
"This has been a fun day, Baby," Willow said as she gazed into bright, blue eyes. "I'm so glad you made me come."
"If I recall correctly, I did that a number of times this morning." Tara gave Willow a sultry look.
"Tara!" Willow hissed in mock admonishment, all the while feeling a blush creep up her neck. "You know what I meant. I'm just really happy that I got to spend the day with you and meet these amazing kids."
Tara wrapped her arms around Willow's waist and rested her head on the redhead's shoulder, sighing happily when Willow returned the embrace. "Me too, Sweetie."
They sat that way, content in each other's arms, watching the children play. They looked to the main door of the rec room when they heard Harley's voice cut through the din.
"Okie dokie, Kiddies! Parents will be here in a few minutes. Time to clean up and get ready to go," the director called out and then made her way to chat with Buffy.
The children let out a collective groan of disappointment, but dutifully began to pick up their supplies and return them to the art table.
"Hey, Sweetie," Tara said as she straightened up, "do you want to stick around for a bit and watch the rehearsal?"
"Yeah. The group doing the display will be stopping by to do their final dress rehearsal for the Christmas display," Tara explained. "It could be fun."
"Sure," the redhead agreed. "But, then we go home, right? Cuz I'm really hungry."
Tara giggled and placed a gentle kiss on Willow's lips, lingering for just a moment, letting their breaths mingle. "You know," she purred, "gluttony is considered one of the deadly sins."
"Then I'm doomed to an eternity of being a sinner. When it comes to Christmas buffet, 'glutton' is my middle name." Willow grinned and wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
"I love you, Sweetie."
"And I love you."
Without warning, Faith and Buffy plopped down on either side of the Lovebirds, both looking thoroughly exhausted.
"Tara, I don't know how you do this." Buffy was almost whining. "I mean, we've been here for 30 minutes and I'm worn out. You've been here for hours and look like you've just had the best day ever."
Tara looked at Willow and gave her hand a squeeze before addressing Buffy. "Well, it has been a great day, Buffy. Besides, you know how much I love these kids. I have so much fun with them."
"I love these kids too, T," Faith interjected. "I especially like that Mary kid. Gotta appreciate anyone who thinks I have a great rack."
Buffy rolled her eyes at the brunette. "Then you should be head over heels in love with Terra."
"Heh, yeah. She's good for the ego too," Faith chuckled. "But my point is that Buffy has a point. You're, like, wicked cool with these kids, T. I like hangin' with them, but they wipe me out. How do you do it?"
Willow saw this as her opportunity to add to the conversation. "Well, Faith, to quote a pint-sized warrior princess, my Tara has many skills."
As if on cue, little Sally's war cry could be heard halfway across the room.
"Speak of the devil," Buffy mumbled. "Sally!"
Sally's head snapped around and she set eyes on the group sitting on the bench. "Mommy!" she yelled and ran as fast as her little legs could carry her. Once she was near enough, she launched herself into the air and landed with a hearty thud on Buffy's lap. She wrapped her arms around the blonde and squeezed. "Hi, Mommy! I saved Gabrielle three times today!"
"That's great, Baby-girl. I knew you could do it." Buffy said, returning the hug. "Now, are you just about ready to go? Daddy will be here soon."
"Yep, I'm all ready!" Sally stated, excitedly bouncing in her mother's lap. "Argo is all set up in the stable and Gabrielle is visiting her mommy and daddy and sister."
"Well, good, cuz there's Daddy now. Look." Buffy pointed to the man standing at the doorway of the rec room. "Hurry up now. I'll see you at home later. Be good."
"Okay, Mommy!" Sally said, giving Buffy a parting hug. When she hopped down from Buffy's lap, she turned to the other adults and addressed them as well. "Bye! Miss Willow, don't forget to come back, okay?"
"Okay, Sally," Willow replied and smiled at the little girl. "You take care of Gabrielle."
"Oh, I will!" And with that, Sally turned and ran to her waiting father.
"Parker!" Buffy called out and waited for her husband to heft Sally into his arms. "No McDonald's! I'll be home in about two hours."
"Yes, dear," the man said. He hugged his daughter to him, whispering in her ear. The two shared a giggle and then turned to leave the room.
"So which happy meal do you think she'll order tonight, B?" Faith teased.
"Chicken McNuggets, definitely," the blonde sighed. "Oh well, it's the holidays. I'll let them splurge."
Tara returned her gaze to the door and raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Um, Buffy...Faith...I think more of your...um...performers are here," she said, nodding toward the people who had just entered. "I think you might want to head them off at the pass and take them to the locker room."
Faith looked up at the newcomers, then at the kids, who were fortunately wrapped up in a rousing game of tag, and then back to the door. "Shit," she exclaimed in a hushed tone, careful to not let the kids hear her curse. "Let's go, B. Tare's right."
The two publishers quickly made their way to the group and expeditiously ushered them out the door and down the hall.
"Did you see what they were wearing?" Willow asked.
"That's for a Christmas display?"
"Oh, we are definitely staying for this rehearsal."
Tara simply chuckled and glanced at the door to see more adults entering the room. She waved at a few of them when they called out to her in greeting and described each for Willow's benefit - and, in some cases, for her amusement. She pointed to each in turn.
"That's Oz. He's Cam's father. The little guy standing next to him is Jonathan, Oz's lover. Cam adores both of them.
"Over there is Larry. Remember Terra mentioning her 'gay boyfriend'? Well, that's him. He's actually her brother. They're really cute together.
"Um, let's see. Oh, that's Emmy's father, Clem. He'll come by now and then to play with the kids when he has a day off from work. It's quite adorable to watch him and Emmy take care of the 'babies'.
"The older man over there is Justin's and Watty's grandfather, Rupert. I'll bet you any amount of money that he's mumbling about Justin's 'infernal machines' right now. Oh, Justin and Watty are cousins, I forgot to tell you. Justin's father, Wesley, is out of town right now. Usually he would be here. But Rupert is filling in. Watty lives with her grandfather.
"Angel is Cyd's dad - the tall guy over there. He's a little broody at times, but really quite nice. Though he isn't really happy about Cyd's fixation on Lincoln Logs...well, wood in general. I'm not sure why.
"Janna's father is Riley. He's the man in the corner who looks like a cardboard cutout. Janna must get her brains from her mother, because Riley is kinda...thick.
"The colorful guy over there is Maru's father, Lorne. Usually he comes in singing a song from some Broadway musical. Maru never misses a beat: she blurts out the title of the song, which show it's from, the year the show debuted and, more often than not, the artist who originally sang it. It's amazing.
"The peroxide blonde is Chris's brother, William. Everyone calls him 'Spike'. I don't think there's any real meaning behind the nickname other than he thinks it makes him sound cool. Chris adores his brother. Sometimes Cyd will rope Spike into a quick game of poker."
As Tara finished her narration, Debra and Mary walked over and plopped down on the floor at Willow and Tara's feet.
"What's up, guys?" Willow asked. "No one here to pick you up yet?"
Little Debra was the first to speak up. "No, my sister is here. Miss Faith and Miss Buffy took her out of the room. I have to wait for them to finish their practice before I can go home."
"What about you, Mary?"
"My brother is always late, isn't that right, Miss Tara?"
"Yes, Mary, that's right. But he never forgets to pick you up," Tara said encouragingly.
"Oh, I know, it's okay," Mary assured. "I think he's with his girlfriend today. She always makes him come late."
Willow choked down her laughter. When she saw the expression on Tara's face, she did her best to hide her smirk. You're thinking the same thing, Baby. You can't fool me. "Well, I'm sure he'll be here soon, Mary."
"Where's the boy with the little dollies?" A dreamy voice interrupted their conversation. "I like the boy with the dollies. He reminds me of the days when I would play with Miss Edith."
"Yes, Honey, I know," a male voice responded. "It looks like he's gone already. Maybe we can be on time tomorrow and you can see Chris."
Mary turned her head away from the pair and looked at Willow and Tara. She sighed in exasperation. "Xander and Dru-u-u-u-u-u-u are here," she said mockingly, drawing out the woman's name. Mary had a look on her face that suggested she had just eaten a SourPatch Kid. "And people wonder why I want to be a psycho-ologist." She stood up and rolled her eyes. "I have to go. Please tell Miss Faith that I said goodbye. See you all later, gators!" And with that, she turned and led Xander and Dru out of the room.
"Hey, Debra," Harley called out as she approached, "would you go tell the others that they can come in whenever they're ready?"
"Sure, Miss Harley," Debra readily agreed and skipped out of the room.
"Would you two mind helping me move these cows?" Harley asked. "They need to be lined up. Shouldn't be too hard."
"Sure thing, boss," Tara stood up quickly and gave Harley a sharp salute.
"Oh, get over it, Maclay," Harley chuckled and led the couple to the stage. "I don't know how you put up with her, Willow. She can be such a smart ass."
"Well, it's better than being a dumbass," Willow retorted. "So, all things being equal, let's just say I like her ass and leave it at that."
Tara and Harley stopped dead in their tracks and stared at the redhead. Tara wore a shocked expression: her eyes as wide as saucers, her mouth opening and closing as if wanting, but unable, to say something. Harley had a look of newfound respect for Willow.
"Well said, Rosenberg," Harley said appreciatively. "Now I see why Tara can't shut up about you...you're a hum-dinger, you are. Good on ya!" She spared a look at Tara - laughing at the blonde's continuing struggle to make any sound - gave Willow a conspiratorial wink, and then resumed her trek to the stage.
Willow grabbed her girlfriend's hand and began to follow the director. "Come on, Baby. Time and cows wait for no man...er...woman."
Tara allowed herself to be led away, her jaw still gaping in astonishment.
Willow, Tara and Harley finished the bovine rearrangement in very little time. The three of them worked quickly and efficiently. Willow and Harley jabbered away about the kids as they transported cows from one area of the stage to another. Tara was still speechless.
Just as they put the last cow in place, little Debra returned to the room, leading a group of women in colorful costumes. She was holding tightly to the hand of an attractive woman with wavy, dark blonde hair. As they approached, Debra smiled widely. "Miss Willow, this is my sister. Her name is Glory."
Willow held out her hand and greeted the woman. "Hi, Glory. Nice to meet you."
"Well, look at you with the red hair!" Glory virtually oozed sugary sweetness. After shaking Willow's hand, she turned her attention to Tara. "So, this is the little woman, huh? Way to go, Tare. I'll bet she's sassy!"
Willow turned a shade of red that almost matched the color of her hair. She wasn't sure whether to be offended or embarrassed.
Tara just giggled. "Hi, Glory. Yes, Willow is my girlfriend." The blonde looked at Willow with a thoughtful expression and then added, "and, yeah, she has her moments of sassiness."
Glory gave a playful tug on Debra's hand. "C'mon, Deb, let's find you a spot so you can see everything."
Willow turned to Tara as the two sisters walked away. "Debra is sticking around for the rehearsal?"
"Oh yeah, she's their best critic," Tara confirmed. "If it weren't for Debra, those women wouldn't know their left foot from their right."
"I have no doubt," Willow mumbled.
"Yo, T...Red," Faith interrupted, coming to a stop at the couple's side, "you two hangin' out for a while?"
"Yeah," Tara replied, "we thought we would watch the dress rehearsal, if that's okay with all of you."
"Sure. You can powwow with Deb and tell us if we look like fools or not," the brunette joked.
"I'm sure you won't look like fools," Willow assured. "Your costumes are certainly eye-catching, anyway."
"Heh, yeah," Faith chuckled, "they don't leave much to the imagination, do they?"
"I think the costumes are just fine," a new voice broke into the conversation. "Though if they didn't take so long to put on, I wouldn't have missed seeing Xander."
Faith merely rolled her eyes. "T...Red...this is Anya."
"Hi, Anya," Willow and Tara said in unison.
"Hello," Anya replied, spying the couple's joined hands. "Are you orgasm friends?"
Willow's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.
Tara's tongue got caught in her throat.
Faith was unfazed. "Jesus, Anya, what did we tell you about asking questions like that?"
"What did I say?" Anya asked, a sincere expression on her face. "Was that an inappropriate question? I was simply wondering if they were dating each other."
"Okay, then you ask 'are you dating' or 'are you a couple,'" Faith tried to explain. She spoke very slowly. "You do not use the word 'orgasm' in your question."
Anya heaved a sigh and threw up her hands in exasperation before turning to walk away. "I just don't get it," she muttered, her voice gradually fading away as she moved back toward the stage, "I just asked a simple 'yes or no' question. It's not like I asked how often they had orgasms...or how they did it..."
"Well, she's certainly a piece of work," Tara claimed once she regained the use of her voice.
"Yeah," Faith scoffed, "that she is. I mean, I may not be Miss Manners, but at least I have some tact."
The trio made their way to a makeshift seating area close to the stage. As they neared the area, Faith asked, "So?"
"Um, so what?" Tara furrowed her eyebrows in confusion.
"Are you orgasm friends?"
Willow's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.
Tara's tongue got caught in her throat.
Faith was highly amused.
"Gotcha!" Faith laughed.
Tara and Willow joined in the laughter.
"You're just evil, Faith," the redhead asserted, "I like you."
"Ditto, Red. Now, let me point everyone out to you." Faith directed their attention toward the group on the stage. "You've already met Anya...and what a memorable experience that was...and I think I saw you talking to Glory. She's like Anya in many ways...blunt, outspoken...she just has a much smoother approach. The blonde over there on the right...the one who looks like the butt of every blonde joke in existence...that's Harmony. In fact, I think most blonde jokes are based on her...not the sharpest tool in the shed," Faith chuckled at her own joke. "Amy is the chick looking at Terra's cow...she may look disgusted, but I think she's secretly drooling. When that girl comes out of the closet, she's going to bust the door off the hinges. Oh, and the beauty queen wannabe is Cordelia. She and Anya don't get along well at all...I guess they both used to date Mary's brother, Xander. Cordy doesn't like to admit that fact, but when she does, she talks about it as if she was just dating him out of pity. Anya, on the other hand, 'misses all the orgasms'...like that's a big surprise, right? And last, but certainly not least, is my girlfriend, Kendra. Buffy and I round out the group."
Tara looked carefully at the group. "There are eight of you, so, 'eight maids a-milkin' I presume?"
"You got it, T! We thought it'd be fun to-" Faith broke off when her attention was drawn to the squabbling at the edge of the stage. Anya and Cordelia were squaring off and it looked like it was about to turn ugly. "Ah, shit. I'll talk to you guys later, I gotta break this up," she said apologetically as she rushed over to prevent 'Milkmaid Smackdown '05'.
Willow and Tara sat down on a couple of chairs that were set up to face the stage and watched the unfolding drama. Cordelia stood, glaring at Anya, her arms crossed haughtily across her chest. Anya was standing her ground, her hands balled into fists and propped firmly on her hips. She was saying something to Cordelia, but Willow and Tara couldn't hear her over the laughter of the rest of the group. Whatever it was, it made Cordelia turn an interesting shade of purple.
Willow scooted her chair closer to Tara and leaned over to whisper in the blonde's ear. "Hey, Baby, do you think we could get one of those costumes when they're finished with them?" she asked, her voice sultry. "I'd love to play milkmaid with you sometime."
Tara gasped softly at the tone of Willow's voice. Her entire body hummed. "I'll see what I can do," she murmured in reply.
Willow flashed a toothy grin at her girlfriend and returned her attention to the stage area. The costumes in question were at once expected and shocking. It was clear that they were milkmaid dresses, but with a twist. Red satin dominated the outfits: the full skirts and puffy sleeves were made out of the smooth material. The bodices were basically black satin corsets, piped with red stays. The collars, arms and hems of the skirts were all lined with fluffy white fur. The necklines plunged quite low, exposing a great deal of cleavage. There was netting underneath the skirts, causing them to extend fully from the bottom of the corsets. The skirts were just long enough to be considered decent...barely. Each milkmaid also wore fishnet stockings and black high heeled, ankle strap pumps. Buffy used to call those 'fuck me pumps' if I remember correctly, Willow thought. I wonder if those were her idea. The ensembles were topped off, literally, by matching Santa hats. Oh, yeah, just wouldn't work without the Santa hat.
The sensation of Tara's breath on her ear brought Willow out of her thoughts. Tara's words sent her thoughts reeling.
"I'll see if I can get two," the blonde purred. She nibbled on Willow's ear in between words. "Just thinking how sexy you would look makes my knees weak."
Willow closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was just about to speak when Harley's voice sounded.
"Okay, is everyone ready?" the director asked, her finger poised over the play button on a portable CD player.
The eight maids a-milkin' were each seated on a stool by a decorated cow, their backs to the audience. The cows were set at a slight angle, so they seemed to be looking at the audience out of the corners of their eyes. "Do it, boss lady," Faith called out.
Harley pressed the play button and almost immediately the sound of Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" filled the room.
At least they used the good version, Tara thought. Madonna's rendition gives me the creeps.
Willow and Tara watched as the milkmaids began moving to the music. With their backs still toward the audience, the maids swayed their hips side to side in time to the music, snapping them on each upward swing. The movements made the skirts on their costumes bounce with each snap. One by one, the maids turned to face the audience. Once they were all facing the same direction, they leaned back against their respective cows and slid downward until their knees were completely bent. They held their knees close together, keeping prying eyes from seeing anything under their skirts...at least for a moment. Suddenly the maids placed a hand on each knee and quickly spread them apart - wide apart - and then snapped them back together. They then stood and slinked to the edge of the stage where they formed a line.
Oh, they aren't going to turn into the Rockettes, are they? I don't think I could handle a kick line. Willow inwardly groaned. A few moments later, she wished they had done a kick line.
The maids turned to the left and placed their hands on the hips of the woman in front of them, effectively forming a chain.
Oh, God! Not a conga line!
It wasn't a conga line. The maids thrust their hips forward and then back again, never breaking the hold on the maid in front of them. They did this three times in succession, each movement punctuated by the beat of the music. On the final thrust back, each maid smacked the ass of the woman in front of her, effectively throwing each set of hips forward again and breaking the chain.
Willow leaned closer to Tara and whispered out of the side of her mouth, "Um, Baby, is this supposed to be a family thing? I mean, will kids be seeing this?"
"I'm not sure, actually," Tara whispered back. "The display as a whole doesn't open to spectators until 10pm, so I'm thinking the number of kids attending should be minimal."
"Good," Willow said as she sneaked a glance at little Debra. The girl was impassive. "Well, it doesn't seem to bother Debra."
Tara looked over at the little girl and then back to Willow. "True, but very little bothers Debra. She lives with Glory, after all."
The couple spent the remainder of the rehearsal in silence. The milkmaids ran through their routine four times, with Debra providing tips and commentary between each run through. Sure enough, the choreography was smoothed out and the entire dance seemed to flow with each successive rehearsal. Debra truly did help them determine their left feet from their right. Buffy, Faith and Harley joined Willow and Tara as the rest of the group left the room, either to change or to go home.
"So, what did you think?" Buffy inquired.
Willow and Tara looked to each other, as if hoping the other woman would have something to say. Finally, Tara spoke up.
"Well, it's certainly...eye-catching."
Buffy clapped her hands excitedly and bounced in place, her skirt flouncing around her in time to the movement. "Oh, good!"
Faith merely chuckled and rolled her eyes at the perky blonde. "You're too easily amused, B." She then turned to Willow and Tara. "You two gonna make it to the show Friday night? I heard the other eleven days are pretty good too."
"We'll, try," Willow said, looking to Tara for confirmation.
"Yes, we'll see if we can stop by after Willow's office party," Tara added rather diplomatically.
"Sweet!" the sultry brunette exclaimed. "Well, I've gotta jet...Kendra is probably waiting for me in the parking lot."
"Yeah, I have to go too," Buffy added. "Sally is probably making Parker play Joxer again. She beats the crap out of him every time." She shook her head and chuckled. "Will, come by our office sometime and we'll do lunch. It would be great to catch up with you."
"You got it, Buff."
After a round of hugs and goodbyes, Buffy and Faith left the building.
Harley fell to the floor in a heap and looked up at Willow and Tara. "God, what a day. Thanks again, guys. You were a huge help today."
"No problem, Harley," Willow replied with a smile. "If it's okay, I'd like to come back with Tara sometimes and hang out with the kids. They're a lot of fun."
"The more the merrier, I always say," the exhausted director said. "You're welcome anytime. Now get out of here so I can lock up."
The girlfriends simply laughed and said goodbye, intertwining their fingers as they went to collect their things and head home.
"C'mon, Baby. I can't wait to get you home." Willow wiggled her eyebrows at Tara. "I think it's just about time for dinner."
"Then let's go," Tara hummed. "I don't want to be accused of denying your appetite."
They nearly ran to the car.
"Mmpphh...Baby...mmm...got to...get...inside," Tara gasped between kisses.
Willow had the blonde pinned to the door of their house, her body pressed tightly against Tara's. She was trying to get the key in the door with one hand while cupping Tara's breast with the other, hungrily kissing Tara all the while. "Mmm...trying...want you...now."
Tara put her hands on Willow's shoulders and gently pushed the redhead away. Both women were breathing heavily, their eyes dilated in arousal. "Sweetie, I want you too. But we have to get in the house," the blonde reasoned.
Taking deep breaths to calm herself, Willow took a step back and smiled sheepishly at her lover. "Okay, you're right," she said as she handed the keys to Tara. "I leave it in your capable hands." Very capable hands...hands I want all over me.
Tara easily unlocked and opened the door, leading Willow inside. She quickly found herself pinned once again to the front door...this time without providing a display for the neighbors.
Willow's hands were everywhere, grasping onto any and every part of Tara's body. She snuck her hands under the blonde's shirt, eager to feel bare skin. Once again, however, she was gently being pushed away. She whimpered at the loss of contact.
"Will, hold on a second." Tara held Willow's hands firmly in her own, lifting them to place feather light kisses on each of the redhead's knuckles. "Right now I smell like paint and glue and the rec room floor. I want to take a shower." She gave Willow a sexy grin. "I want to make sure your buffet tastes good."
Willow's knees nearly gave out on her at the look in Tara's eyes. "A shower! Yeah, a shower is good. I could use one too. I'll take one with you." She pulled Tara toward the stairs, the thought of water dripping over her lover's curves nearly driving her over the edge. However, she met with resistance. She turned to give Tara a questioning gaze.
"Me first, then you," Tara said, her voice firm and gentle at the same time. "I've kept you away from your work all day, Sweetie. If I didn't give you some time to work on that program, I would feel guilty."
"Tara-a-a-a-a," Willow whined, "don't want work now. Just want buffet."
Cave-Willow had returned.
Tara bent down to retrieve the laptop case that had fallen from Willow's shoulder. Glad this thing is padded. She held it out to the pouting redhead. "Go on, Will. Just for a little while. Work on it for an hour and then you can have as much buffet as you want. Please? I'll feel bad if you don't."
Willow took the bag and sighed. "Okay, Baby. I'll work on it for an hour. But I don't think I'm going to get much done knowing my buffet is waiting for me."
Tara smiled and gave her love a quick kiss on the cheek. "Thank you, Sweetie. I'll be down in a bit and then you can have the shower." She then turned and headed up the stairs.
"Don't take too long!" Willow called after her lover. She couldn't hold back a smile as she watched the sway of Tara's hips as the blonde walked up the stairs.
Once Tara was out of sight, Willow made her way into the living room and set up her laptop on the coffee table. She sat on the couch and positioned herself in much the same way as she had earlier that morning. She lost herself in thoughts of the morning's activities as her computer started up. Mmm...Tara-hands...Tara-lips...want. Willow pulled herself out of her reverie and tried to concentrate on the computer in front of her. Okay, here we go. Just gotta find the code. One line. Just one line. You can do this, Rosenberg. Christmas buffet awaits.
She spent a few minutes scrolling through line after line of code, searching for the one bug that was making this project a pain in the ass. Just as she was getting frustrated enough to contemplate throwing her laptop through the large living room window, a conversation from earlier in the day popped into her head.
"I was having an awful time trying to fix it. But now it will be easy."
Willow thought for a moment. I'm not really thinking about doing this, am I? She looked at the computer screen again, the lines of code just sitting there, mocking her. "Oh, what the hell," she mumbled. "It couldn't hurt."
She lifted her laptop from its spot on the coffee table and carefully rotated the machine so that the image on the screen was upside down. I can't believe I'm doing this, she thought as her eyes grazed over the code on the screen. She closed her eyes for a moment, chuckling to herself. "You're cracked, Rosenberg," she said to the empty room. Then she opened her eyes again. She was about to turn the laptop around again, restoring it to its original, upright position when something caught her attention.
There, on the screen, staring at her was the bug in the code.
"I don't believe it!" she exclaimed. "I don't friggin' believe it!"
She quickly turned the computer over and placed it back on the coffee table. A few fast taps on the keyboard later, her program was completely debugged. She quickly saved the program and jumped to her feet. Willow proceeded to do an imitation of the dance of joy she'd seen little Mary do earlier in the day.
"Thank you, Justin!" she yelled, flinging her arms wide and throwing back her head.
The sound of running water from the upstairs bathroom stilled Willow's movements. She held her breath for a moment and then released it in a delighted sigh.
"Christmas buffet," she purred.
Willow wasted no time running up the stairs, taking the steps two at a time. She tore her clothes from her body as she ran. Hopping on one foot as she struggled to remove her jeans, Willow finally made it to the bathroom door.
Having finally divested herself of the cumbersome denim, Willow stood outside the door...naked and out of breath from her frantic trip up the stairs. She took a moment to collect herself. But just a moment.
She wrapped her hand around the doorknob and turned it gently, careful not to make any noise as she opened the door.
She tiptoed into the room and closed the door softly behind her. It was warm; steam was drifting over the shower curtain rod and clinging to the mirror.
Willow could see Tara's shadowy silhouette through the shower curtain. She swallowed heavily as her eyes blazed a trail over her lover's curves.
She stepped forward and gingerly drew back the curtain, taking in the sight before her. Tara was leaning back under the falling water, the lather from her shampoo sliding down her body.
Willow followed the lather with her eyes as it made its way down Tara's neck and over her collarbone. It continued to glide down the blonde's full breast, meeting only slight resistance as it passed over Tara's erect nipple. Willow's mouth went dry as she watched the lather flow over the smooth skin of Tara's stomach. It settled in the triangular patch of dark blonde hair at the apex of Tara's thighs.
"Like what you see?"
Tara's voice made Willow's heart skip a beat. She slowly dragged her eyes back up Tara's body to meet the blonde's gaze.
"Oh yeah," Willow breathed, "very much."
She took a step forward and wrapped her arms around Tara's waist, holding her lover tightly against her own body. She groaned at the contact.
Tara pulled Willow under the water and allowed it to caress both of their bodies. When they stepped away from the soothing water, Tara touched her lips to Willow's, sharing her lover's breath.
"It thought you were supposed to be working," she hummed into Willow's mouth.
"Finished...bug gone...here now," Willow gasped as Tara placed fleeting kisses along her neck.
Tara pulled away for a moment, a quizzical look on her face. "Gone?" she inquired. "But that program has been giving you trouble for weeks. Are you telling the truth? Is it really fixed?"
Willow giggled and tightened her grip on the blonde. "I'm telling the truth...promise," she assured Tara. "I got some good advice today and decided to give it a try...and it worked." Willow smiled at Tara, her eyes sparkling.
"Well, how did you figure it out?"
"Easy...I turned it upside down."
Tara let out a full laugh. "Oh that's great, Will! Wait until we tell Justin. He'll be so excited."
"Yep, we'll definitely tell him...together."
"I mean. Is that okay?"
Tara grasped Willow behind the neck and pulled her into a passionate kiss.
"Thank you, Sweetie," she whispered when they came up for air.
"I had fun today, Tare. I got to spend the day with the woman I love and revisit my youth with a group of great kids." Willow placed a quick kiss on the tip of Tara's nose. "Besides, it's good practice for when we have kids of our own."
Tara cupped Willow's cheek in her hand and looked at her love through tear-filled eyes.
"I love you, Willow Rosenberg."
"I love you, Tara Maclay."
Willow ran her hands along Tara's spine and kissed the blonde gently. When she leaned back, a seductive smile graced her features.
"Now, can I have my Christmas buffet?"
Tara released her hold on Willow to raise her hands and grasp the showerhead, effectively thrusting her body toward her lover. She licked her lips and grinned.
"All you can eat, Sweetie."