Tara looked up at the all too imposing fašade of the house where Willow was staying and felt a lump form in her throat. Her entire old apartment block could have fit quite comfortably within it. It really was a whole other world. A world where she was certain she wouldn't be welcomed as an equal for any number of reasons.
Tara sighed... and then she felt the reassuring warmth of fingers intertwined tightly with her own. A palm pressed against hers... firm, anchoring. She looked across to the owner of the hand, meeting green eyes that sparkled with an intense emotion Tara now recognised as love. She glanced back to their hands, such a small area of skin actually in contact with each other and yet Tara felt her whole body responding to Willow's touch. Willow loved her. With that love she felt she could face an army... this birthday party for Willow's aunt, it was nothing in comparison. Tara sighed again, if it really was nothing... then why did she feel so out of place?
Willow glanced across to Tara and read the apprehension on her face as clearly as if it were in a book. She gave Tara's hand a reassuring squeeze, running her thumb across the soft skin of her hand. She was well as truly rewarded when Tara lifted her gaze let the gorgeous smile that made Willow go weak at the knees creep across her face. Well... a glance from Tara was enough to make her go weak at the knees... a smile made her dizzy as well.
"Are you ready to go inside and have fun?" Willow asked quietly when her dizzy spell had passed. Other party guests strolled past them up to the open front door.
"Is that an order?" Tara replied looking nervously at the grand entranceway, I can't walk though there! Everyone will know straight away that I don't belong.
"Tara, they're just people," Willow reached up to touch Tara on the shoulder, "They eat, they dance, they talk... and they get drunk and make complete asses out of themselves... I'm not saying that is what we're going to do, well, I mean you can do that if you want to. Drunk Tara is probably pretty funny... what am I saying? We're not old enough to drink... okay, no drinking... "
Tara laughed, placing her finger lightly on the redhead's lips. Willow stopped mid-babble... staring blankly for a few moments before grinning apologetically.
"Let's just go inside... " Tara let her finger brush lightly over Willow's lips before her hand fell back to her side, "Because if we stand out here staring at each other for much longer I don't think I can stop myself from doing something I might regret doing in public."
"Well in that case... " Willow was feeling a little too bold for her own good, "I want to stand out here staring at you all night."
Tara blushed as another couple walked passed them, they nodded politely with perhaps the slightest of frowns on their faces. She realised her and Willow standing in the middle of the path, holding hands and making silly faces at one another probably made for a confusing sight. Flashing a determined look at Willow, she lead the way up the stairs and inside.
Somewhere in that short walk their hands slipped apart, Tara felt a little of her courage flee... but Willow was still close by. Walking so her hip brushed against Tara's... or their shoulders pressed together lightly, any of the slightest excuse for contact.
"Aunt Elizabeth... " Willow introduced Tara to her aunt, an imposingly tall woman with a face like stone and a personality to boot, "This is a good friend... from New York, Tara Maclay."
Aunt Elizabeth looked past her nose at Tara, appraising her it seemed, "Maclay? I'm not familiar with that name. What does your family do?"
"M-my f-father works at... " Tara felt her stutter increase beneath the woman's stare.
"He works in the automotive industry!" Willow added in quickly.
"Oh, he owns a company?" Willow's aunt asked appreciatively.
"S-something like that," Tara replied, knowing full well that working in the parts department of Benny's Autos and Spares didn't quite qualify as owning a company, "Um, happy birthday."
Aunt Elizabeth's face wrinkled like a very dry prune, "I'm turning fifty young lady... it's not a happy birthday at all."
Tara looked down at her feet, wishing she could sink through the floor to get away from this woman. She was sure her humble background was written all too clearly across her face.
"Um, we're going to go and get something to eat Aunt Elizabeth!" Willow grabbed Tara by the arm and yanked her away.
"Nice to meet you!" Tara called over her shoulder.
Out of earshot, Willow and Tara breathed a sigh of relief. Willow calmed her racing heart enough to pour them a glass of punch each. Tara watched Willow's aunt from afar, very glad that there was a sufficient distance between them.
"Is that what your mother is like too?" Tara asked Willow.
"My mother? Can't really say... I don't know her that well," Willow took a sip of punch and scanned the room to make sure her cousins were nowhere in sight. She looked back to Tara to see a puzzled expression on her face, she smiled slightly, "Sorry... It's just that my parents don't really take much interest in me... my mother only really notices me when she tries to marry me off to the son of one of Daddy's business partners. I don't really care... "
"Really?" Tara thought she detected a hint of something that said otherwise in Willow's voice.
Willow shrugged, "They're parents... what can I expect?"
"Yeah... " Tara nodded.
Willow watched Tara's expression change to one of quiet reflection as they moved to get something to eat, "Hey, none of that... we want our happy faces on!"
"Hey Willow, I'm all with the happy," Tara smiled brightly, knowing that reflecting on the past had never helped her before, "Let's eat, this looks good."
As Tara sat and watched the party in progress around her she realised what Willow had said earlier was true. They were just people... and as she watched a little more intently... she realised how stifling the atmosphere was. People trying too hard to make a good impression, or display their wealth so everybody would notice. She wondered how Willow had come to be the Willow she had fallen in love with despite growing up in this kind of world.
As it grew a little later, the music had started up and the young and not-so-young people began dancing. Tara watch as Willow tapped her foot in time to the rock and roll beat. Clearly she wanted to dance and yet she turned away every young man that asked her, one after the other. Her urge apparently got the better of her when she finally turned to Tara and asked,
"Want to dance?"
"Willow! We can't dance together here... in public... " Tara looked around nervously, she wanted to so badly.
"Why not? Girls dance together all the time, come on!" Willow jumped to her feet, holding out her hand to Tara with a flamboyant flourish.
"Yes, girls dance together... when no guys ask them to dance... and unless I've been seeing things for the last hour, you've had no shortage of prospective dance partners," Tara remarked ruefully, although she really just wanted to slip her hand into Willow's, "People will think it's weird... "
Tara watched Willow's eyes and bit her lip. Everything about their relationship would be an affront to most people. They shared a quiet moment amidst the noise... Willow's hand still extended towards Tara, so many thoughts passing through their minds. Both girls realised that however strong their feelings for one another, being together would come at a price.
"Let them," Willow said softly, Tara smiled broadly as she reached out and took the small hand in her own.
Willow pulled her up and onto the dance floor, swirling effortlessly into a clear space. She heard Tara laugh lightly as they settled into the fast paced rhythm. All those times Willow had spoke of her love of dancing... Tara saw in written on her face now. Her red hair bounced on her shoulders, dress spinning up past her knees. Tara could barely even remember how to dance when faced with such a sight. She must have managed something resembling movement as Willow leaned close and whispered,
"You're sexy when you dance."
Tara ducked her head, feeling a heat creep into her face. Willow flashed a guilty smile that really just said she wasn't at all sorry for letting than little comment slip.
They had found a new home on the dance floor as song after song went by and they continued dancing. The rest of the party didn't exist at all in Willow-Tara world. Willow eventually felt daring enough to reach out and take Tara's hands in her own, twirling her around the dance floor happily.
Tara closed her eyes for a few moments as Willow swung her around, she was a little dizzy from the momentum. Suddenly, Willow tugged her back to her in a flash and Tara found herself falling forward... straight into Willow's arms. Breathless and seeing stars, Tara stared into Willow's eyes which were so close. For an eternal second they stood, Willow cradling Tara in surprisingly strong arms. Tara's legs felt as though they were mounds of custard, she would have fallen if not for Willow's arm around her back.
So close... Willow fought against senses which were screaming at her to press her lips to Tara's... she only had to lean forward slightly. Kiss her you dummy... god I want to! Tara's breath fell hot and fast on her face like water torture, driving her completely crazy. Willow could hear their matching heartbeats, so loud she thought they should be echoing around the room.
"W-Willow... " Tara breathed, trying to bring them both to their senses.
Willow blinked as though she only just remembered where they were. People were still dancing around them, paying no attention... yet. The two girls stood of their own account, Tara wobbled slightly when Willow let go. Instinctively, Willow dashed forward and put a supportive arm around Tara's waist.
Tara let out a long breath in an effort to calm herself, "I t-think we need to take a... w-walk."
"A walk... but the party's in here," Willow frowned until Tara raised her eyebrows suggestively, "Oh... oh! A walk... yes, I definitely think we need to take a walk... all with the walking here!"
At some stage, as it usually does, the sun had set and the garden was shrouded in darkness. Lamplight illuminated tiny little spots. It was quiet... so peaceful and they strolled hand in hand along a small path, watching light dance on the water of the fish pond. Willow was aware of how immensely sweaty her palm was becoming, she slipped her hand out of Tara's grasp and instead put an arm around her waist. Tara touched her head lightly against Willow's, sliding her arm around her waist to draw them even closer together.
Willow sighed contentedly, "Why didn't I think to suggest a walk as soon as we arrived?"
"Because the food was pretty good," Tara giggled, "And I did enjoy dancing with you... despite the fact you trod on my toe... "
"Tara Maclay, you take that back... I am an excellent dancer!" Willow protested vehemently until she faltered slightly under Tara's knowing stare, "Okay, okay... once! But what was I supposed to do! Your chest was pressed against mine, it completely threw me off my rhythm!"
Willow felt a surge of something she suspected was desire when she remembered Tara's breasts touching hers so intimately. She had completely forgotten how to dance at that point, it was no wonder she had trod on Tara's foot.
Tara was blushing furiously as they sat down on a small park bench. The nearest lamp was close enough so they could see each other's faces and yet far enough so that they weren't obvious to anyone else in the garden. They sat slightly sideways, knees pressed together, an arm around each others back. Willow moved her other hand down to trail a lazy pattern over Tara's thigh before she rested it there comfortably.
"Have I told you that I love you today?" Willow asked impishly.
"Not often enough... I think those are three words I will never get tired of hearing."
"Will they always come from me though?" Willow couldn't help but say it, she felt a pang of jealousy towards the non-existent person who might whisper those words to the girl she held in her arms.
"God, I hope so," Tara stroked Willow's cheek with a feathery touch, "I don't know though... I can't help but be a little scared... about everything."
"I know how you feel. It all seems so surreal... I'm not so sure just what to believe anymore," Willow kept her eyes on Tara's, "I don't know, like it's too good to be true or something..."
"...and someone's going to take it away from us," Tara finished in a whisper.
Willow tilted her head to one side, studying the worries flitting across Tara's face as though she hoped she could make them all go away with just words. She knew she couldn't. Tara smiled a sad and knowing smile.
"Cheer up baby," Willow whispered, "We're together... we're in Paris... and, right here, right now... we're alone..."
Tara lent forward for a few moments to nuzzle Willow's cheek affectionately before drawing back to watch the green eyes she loved so much, "I'm your baby?"
Willow grinned broadly as her eyes sparkled, "You're my baby."
Willow stared deep into Tara's eyes, feeling the warmth there as well as the warmth their bodies shared at the points they were pressed together. She stroked Tara's back, making little circles with her fingertips before reaching her hand up to rest around Tara's neck. Time stopped when she began drawing Tara towards her.
It took a few moments for Tara to realise that she could no longer feel the cold metal of the bench at her back... or the ground beneath her feet for that matter. She was only aware of Willow, one of the redhead's hands resting around her waist while the other was around her neck, the thumb caressing her jaw line. Willow's lips were now so close she could feel the hot breath issuing from them. Just a few more inches and she would be able to feel them...
The two girls sprang apart as a young man joined them with a jaunty grin, his hands on his hips. With a quick glance in Tara's direction, Willow glared at the young man,
"Claude, do you mind?" Willow was almost ready to launch herself at her cousin, claws bared.
"I was sent to fetch you, They're bringing out the cake... you should be there you know... Mother has noticed your absence and was asking after you," he looked Tara up and down approvingly, "Are you going to introduce me to your friend?"
"No," Willow growled.
"Just what were you doing out here anyway? All the fun is inside... and the music is hopping! It's so dull out here."
"We were about to make out!" Willow snapped angrily without even thinking.
Claude laughed raucously, slapping his thigh, "Willow you are too funny!"
Willow rolled her eyes and then looked to Tara apologetically... a frozen look of horror was quickly melting to be replaced by a wry grin. The blonde shrugged her shoulders.
"Come on!" Claude began leading the way back up the path to the house, "Girl talk can wait!"
Willow and Tara followed at a distance, when he had disappeared inside, Willow stopped walking. She picked up both Tara's hands in her own and held them tightly. The two girls let out matching sighs of frustration before Willow giggled and Tara followed suit.
"Shot down I guess," Willow managed to stop laughing, "Gee, what an idiot!"
"Luckily for us I guess," although Tara thought they were anything but lucky.
"Willow! The cake!" Claude yelled out the back door.
He ducked inside again and Willow reluctantly let her hands fall away and walked back in the house. Tara stayed close. Willow almost melted beneath the look her aunt gave her when the two girls returned to the ballroom.
"Anyone would think you don't want to celebrate my birthday Willow," Aunt Elizabeth remarked coldly when Willow joined them at the family table, "Don't you think you could show your aunt... who is kindly letting you stay with her I might add, a little more courtesy? You look like a well behaved young lady Tara, don't you agree?"
"Y-yes," Tara stuttered when the woman directed that gaze to her.
A rather subdued Willow and Tara joined in the polite laughter and the singing of 'happy birthday to you', all the while knowing there was something else they would much rather be doing. Willow managed to sneak out from beneath her aunt's iron gaze long enough to whisper to Tara,
"Okay, we're going to have cake and smile at people and then come hell or high water we are finding a room with a lock!"