Tara woke up and found it was still the middle of the night. It was slightly stormy outside, blowing across the windowpane. Listening to the howl of the wind made her happy that she was in her own apartment, in her own warm bed... holding her Willow.
Tara spooned Willow, and scooted closer to hold her even tighter. Willow mumbled happily for a moment, then fell silent again. Tara smiled to herself. So much had happened in the last three months. Her life as Collector Senior in her district was coming together nicely and her relationship with Willow was deepening by the day. The cheerful redhead had a way of dragging the shy Tara out into the open, so Willow's friends had become her friends. And The Bronze and the Espresso Pump had become frequent hang-outs.
This night, Tara had cooked Willow a nice meal before they went over to Buffy's house for Video night. Xander's massive DVD collection had provided the movies for the alien-themed night. They'd watched, in a row, Alien, Mars Attacks! and The Blob. Tara had found the latter movies silly and funny, but Alien had almost scared her out of her seat a couple of times. Luckily, curling up to Willow had been just the cure for that.
And after video night had ended, Willow had decided to sleep over at Tara's apartment. For the last month, there hadn't been a night they had slept alone. Tara'd stay over at Willow's apartment or vice versa.
"Mmmmm," Willow talked in her sleep. "Riding... the wheelie office chair down... steep hills..."
Tara smiled for a moment, reflecting what kind of interesting dreams her love must be having. Being in a naughty mood, Tara slipped her hand up Willow's pajama top and found her belly-button. She slowly let the tips of her fingers graze Willow's tender skin as she drew circles around. Willow smiled in her sleep and relaxed against Tara.
The young Reaper closed her eyes, getting ready to go to sleep again while holding Willow tightly.
No! Tara groaned.
Nooooo! Hoping against all hope, Tara thought that maybe it would go away.
Tara sighed heavily. She knew that the next step her pager would take to get her to respond was to emit a loud beep, so she reached over to the nightstand with her free hand and squeezed it tightly, being somewhat disappointed that she didn't have nearly enough strength to crush it. She squinted at her pager in the dark... and could barely read that someone was dying in the ER of a nearby hospital. She was required to be there to Collect.
She sighed and slowly disentangled herself from Willow. The sleeping redhead let out a few mews in protest and finally let out a pouty, disappointed groan.
"Sorry, sweetie," Tara kissed Willow on the cheek briefly. "I'll be right back."
One of the disadvantages of being the only Collector in her district, was that she was basically on call 24 hours of every day in the week. And that is why she ended up huddling in her cloak and standing near the entrance of the ER in the hospital of another town, only wearing an extra-large nightshirt, boxers and the two pink fluffy bunny slippers.
A young doctor and several nurses were desperately trying to keep an older man alive. From the look of it, he had just had a massive heart-attack and Tara could sense his impending death. Or rather, it was screaming in her face. Oh, the doctors and nurses did their best, but the man would die within the next few minutes, that much was certain and unavoidable.
She shivered as she felt the cold hair rush across her exposed legs every time the sliding doors near her opened to let in another patient in need of care. Tara sighed wistfully , thinking of her nice warm bed... and a nice warm red-head with very, very soft skin lying in the aforementioned nice warm bed all alone.
Tara snapped to attention when an elongated beep sounded from the machine that the nurses had hooked up to the man's chest. Time to get to work...
"CLEAR!" shouted the doctor while he slid two pads together and pressed them on his chest. A jolt of electricity jumped through the man's body. Tara could sense the man's pain increase tenfold.
What's he doing? He's going to die. Nothing can stop it.
The young doctor prepared a long hypodermic needle. A few moments later, he rammed it unceremoniously into the man's chest, plunging a chemical compound directly into the dying man's heart.
That egotist, Tara narrowed her eyes. Doesn't he realize how much pain he's causing?
"It's not working," the doctor sighed. "Alright, we'll do a cardiac massage. Rib-spreader!" he called at the nurse. Immediately, the nurse took a large silvery, nasty looking clamp from the cart nearby, while another nurse got out something that looked like a small round saw.
No more pain. Time to put a stop to this charade, Tara said and clicked her scythe to the floor, causing the blade to spring into position. She swung it over her head with both hands and landed the blade into the man's body. Immediately, the machine let out its elongated beep for a second time, just before the nurse could apply the saw.
"NO!" cursed the doctor. "Alright, let's try..."
"Ben," said one of the nurses. "It's over."
Ben said nothing for a moment. "Dammit," he said again, kicking away a trashbin before sinking against the wall.
"Time of death 3:47."
Tara didn't hear them. She gently, very gently took the man's soul in both hands and reverently placed it in her container. After that, she took her scythe and left the doctors to their work. Willow was still all alone, after all.
After having teleported back home, Tara silently unlocked a drawer in her desk. Without waking Willow, she placed her soul container in the desk drawer and locked it again. Then, she walked over to her dresser, put her cloak into a small dufflebag and placed it into the back of the dresser, behind some old coats.
A luck would have it, Tara had discovered a loose floorboard in her new apartment, which had become the perfect hiding place. She lifted a corner of the rug underneath her coffee table in the living room and carefully lifted the board. With her free hand, she slid her scythe underneath the floor before replacing the board and the rug.
Eager to return to her bed and her Willow, Tara walked into the bedroom, hurried alongside the bed and slipped underneath the covers to again embrace Willow with all her worldly might.
"Eep," Willow exclaimed, still half asleep. "Cold... Cold Tara..."
"Warm me up, sweetie," Tara whispered in her ear, and fell into a blissful sleep almost immediately.
Tara woke up when she felt something moving frantically beside her. Opening her eyes, she groggily took in the sight of Willow struggling into a pair of pants almost immediately, hopping on one leg while trying to get her other leg into the jeans.
"I'm late for class," Willow panted. "I'm late cause of Tara-snuggles. Again!"
"Sure, blame p-poor little me," Tara smirked and looked at the alarm clock: 8.28. Class would start in two minutes.
"Gotta run, baby," Willow said and gave the sleepy blonde a quick kiss on the lips.
"Willow," Tara called over while Willow was slinging her book-bag over her shoulder. "You're still wearing your pajama top."
Willow stopped dead in her tracks and looked herself over. "Oh," she stated dully and dove into her wardrobe. Exactly 5.67 seconds later, Willow emerged fully clothed. She took a bun from a plate in the kitchen, stuffed it in her mouth, waved goodbye to Tara and ran out the door.
Tara shook her head and decided against sleeping in for another hour. After a quick shower and breakfast, she sat down at her desk. Every friday, Tara brought her souls to the Head Office for processing. The only thing that was left for her to do was to fill out a form for each soul collected and slide those into the container. Tara had collected 21 souls this week, so she figured she'd need an hour or so. After filling out the forms, she signed and stamped each of them. Now, she only had to wait for Faith.
She decided to read for a while, until the doorbell rag. As soon as Tara opened the door, she found herself jumped by Buffy. With a yelp, Tara fell on her back on the floor, while Buffy pinned her to the ground. "Stop it, Buffy, stop it!" Tara giggled while Buffy licked her face on both cheeks, greeting her properly.
"Buffffyyyy," Tara continued giggling at the massive display of affection. Suddenly, Buffy raised her head and headed off to Tara's couch, jumped up and ended up lying on her side, lazying about.
"Good girl, Buffy," Faith grinned as she entered Tara's house. "Hey, T," she greeted. As usual, she headed straight for Tara's fridge after the greeting.
Buffy, Faith's huge beige and black muzzled mastiff, lay sprawled on her couch, lazying about like only a truly huge dog could. Buffy the mastiff was still very young, under a year. Buffy, then called Comet, had belonged to a single man whom Faith had Harvested almost three months ago. Faith had always wanted to own a dog, and showed a remarkable sense of responsibility by adopting her and renaming her Buffy. Still, it had taken Tara some effort to convince Faith that dogs couldn't live on beer and beef jerkey alone.
While Tara was petting Buffy, Faith came from the kitchen holding a freshly opened beerbottle.
"I still can't believe you called your dog after Willow's friend," Tara shook her head while giving the huge dog a belly-rub, avoiding Buffy's suddenly hyperactive paw.
Faith shrugged. "I just was inspired by her name, I didn't really name my dog after her. Besides, it's her mom's fault! What kind of mother gives her daughter a dog's name? That's just weird. Anyway, I stopped by to deliver your soul, T."
Tara smiled and took the container Faith handed her. As a Collector Senior, she could decide who'd be allowed to take the Harvester cases under her jurisdiction. Since Tara wasn't allowed (or even wanted to) Harvest herself, and was still very nervous that the truth about Willow would be discovered by someone from the Head Office, she always requested that Faith would handle any required Harvesting in her district.
There was only one problem with having Faith as a Harvester... "Faith," Tara started. "Please tell me you've done your p-paperwork?"
"Oh, yeah," Faith grinned, fished a form from her cloak and gave it to Tara, who examined it.
"Uhm, Faith?" Tara glowered at her friend. "This form isn't filled out. There's just a doodle of me on it. A doodle of me with horns and fangs. A doodle of me, saying 'Yak Yak Yak, do your paperwork, Faith, Nag Nag Nag'."
"Well..." there was a twinkle in Faith's eye.
"Oh, there's one category filled out... Cause of Death : Faith M. Lehane?" Tara crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow.
Faith challenged Tara's raised eyebrow with one of her own. "Well, any good artist signs her work," Faith said. "Do you realize how long it took me to get that old lady underneath that piano?"
Tara sighed. "Okay, I'll fill it all out." Cause of Death: crushed underneath a falling piano. Thank the goddess I'm not a Harvester anymore.
"Okay, T," Faith grinned. "You and Red! You gals done it yet? Spill it! Auntie Faith wants to hear all the filthy details!"
"Faith!" Tara huffed. "There's more to a r-relationship than s-s-s-sex, you know?"
"I'll take that as a 'no', then," Faith smirked. "Come on, it's been three months. Third date is long past."
"As if you've ever waited for the third date," Tara countered.
"Don't change the subject, T," Faith said. "Come on, you've been a non-practising lesbian for years. And now you've got a cute girl, so what are you waiting for? Get that whip crackin'!"
"I d-don't o-own a w-whip," Tara spoke nervously.
"Don't you want to dance the watutsi with Red? Don't you want to sink the titanic with your lovely Willow? Penning the Teller? Hiding the sausag... oh, wait, scratch that one. Tipping the velvet? Oh, I got it: WWW-ing computer science girl until you both dot com!"
The answer to those questions? Yes, yes, yes, no, yes, oh goddess YES! In that order, Tara thought, feeling her cheeks burn. "F-f-f-faith, I d-d-d-d-d..."
Faith held up her hand. "The blush and the stutters are telling enough," Faith winked. "My work here is done. Come on, Buffy!"
"Wuf," answered Buffy. The huge mastiff let herself drop from the couch and slantered back towards the door.
And in a second, Faith and Buffy were gone, leaving Tara standing with an abnormally high heartbeat and steeped in some very, very naughty thoughts.
Head Office, Head Office... get your mind off things, Tara...
The Head Office was a large office skyscraper that existed purely in ethereal space. Its location shifted every few months. Nobody really knew why this happened, but Tara suspected that the Powers had something to do with it. More likely, though, she gathered some Reaper relocators just did it every now or than to validate their own salaries.
Tara entered the huge lobby, decorated in the Grim Reaper motif. Behind the lobby stood a huge statue of how the mortals saw the Grim Reaper: a white skeleton wearing a billowing robe and brandishing a wicked looking scythe. Tara shook her head, it was all rather silly, especially considering all the cloaked people walking around in the building.
After showing her ID-card to the receptionist, she ascended the stairs to the second floor. Every friday, she'd deliver her souls before 11 o'clock at the Early Delivery window. Usually, she was there early, but Faith's antics had belated her.
To her dismay, she found the entire waiting room filled with other Reapers edging to deliver their souls. Tara sighed, took a number and a seat. She looked at the number. 42. She looked at the sign above the check-in window. 3.
She sighed and checked the magazines. Of course, the newest magazine was a six month old Enquirer. Instead, Tara picked up a paper... three weeks old... and went straight to the obituaries.
Time slowed to a crawl. Uneasy as Tara was in a crowd, she was not happy to be in a cramped waiting room with forty other Reapers. She buried herself in her newspaper to avoid them for the next hours.
'Ting'. The sign finally read 42. Tara breathed a sigh of relief and sped towards the window across the now empty room. But mere seconds before she arrived, the old lady behind the window pulled down the window and placed the sign 'closed' behind it. Tara's head whipped around to the clock near the entrance: 12 o'clock.
"But..." Tara started.
The old lady tapped the 'closed' sign.
"I only want to deliver my souls," Tara pleaded.
"Well, ye should have been here earlier, then," the clerk countered mercilessly. "You'll have to bring your Collected souls to the Midday Delivery window now. They're the ones who accept souls between 12 and 5 o'clock."
Tara's face fell. "But that all the w-w-way on the other s-s-side of the building. And I've b-been waiting long than an hour. Can't you just b-bend the rules a little?"
The lady tapped the 'closed' sign again.
The lady tapped the 'closed' sign again, really vigorously this time.
Tara sighed and left the office. She walked through corridors, across office areas and workspaces until she arrived at the Midday Delivery window. Tara was relieved to find the room empty, allowing her to stroll right up to the clerk and present her souls.
"And what do you expect me to do with these?" the Reaper behind the window said in a slow, monotonous drone of a voice.
"Um, a-accept them?" Tara asked hopefully.
"Not on wednesdays and fridays," the clerk said. "On those days, you'll have to go the fourteenth floor and present them to the Acquisitioner's Office, section 31A. I'm sorry, but I really can't accept your souls."
Tara sighed and left the office, making her way back to the elevator. A few minutes later, she found herself navigating a labyrinth of cubicles until she arrived at the Acquisitioner's Office, where a short, pimply Reaper looked up at her.
"I can't just take your souls like that," the whiny Reaper snorted. "I mean, that would just be preposterous. Before I can take your souls, you'll have to fill out form J-2567-XZ in threefold to accompany them. I mean, I can't just take those souls and send them to the afterlife without the appropriate paperwork, you know? That'd be silly."
No, that'd be logical and right, Tara thought wryly. "So, where can I g-get form J-2.. Um, that form?"
"Oh, that's easy," the whiny Reaper said. "Just go to the Field Administrator's office on the 25th floor and ask for Harmony. She'll help you out."
It took Tara a while to find the Field Administrator's office, but soon found herself talking to a bubbly blonde secretary who was dutifully filing her nails. "Like, I'm really sorry and stuff, but I really can't give you form J-2567-XZ without my supervisor's approval. And she's gone home for the weekend. I can only give you form J-2567-XZ if you give me form Z-5896-JG in sixfold. You can get form Z-5896-JG from the Pestilence Office on the 30th floor. Sorry, but I really don't wanna lose my job again."
After getting off the elevator again, Tara sped towards the Pestilence Office, where she met a cheerful and polite Reaper. "I say, I say, what's the big idea, gal?" the elderly Reaper spoke in a powerful southern drawl. "I can't give ya form Z-5896-JG before ya be givin' me form 1138-THX in ninefold. Ya can get that on floor 75, at the Famine Office, I say."
Tara sighed. "But... c-can't you just?"
"Now, if ya don't stop yappin, ya get your tongue sunburned," the elderly Reaper spoke.
"F-forget it," Tara grimaced.
The elderly Reaper shook his head sadly as he watched Tara leave. "That gal's about as sharp as a bowlin' ball."
Tara grimaced as she arrived at the elevator, swiped her card into the mechanism and punched floor 75. Nothing happened. She swiped the card and and punched floor 75 again.
"Attention," a recorded female voice sounded in the elevator. "You have... clearance level... 5. You must have... clearance level... 7... to be able to use the elevator above the 30th floor. Have a nice day."
Tara shook her head. "No... No... no...", she gulped as she looked at the door labeled 'stairs'.
Fifteen minutes later, Tara dragged her tired, exhausted body onto the 75th floor, nearly collapsing in front of the clerk at the Famine office.
"Please..." she panted. "Please g-give me form 1138-THX."
"Do you have a writ of acquisition?" asked the young Reaper impassively. "I'll be glad to give you the form, but you'll have to get a writ of acquisition first and sign it. Rules, you see? You can find writs of acquisition in a basket next to the Early Delivery window on the second floor, miss. Uh, miss? You look sort of red in the face. Are you alright? Do you want something to drink?"
The office workers could hear Tara swear five floors above.
With a face as red as a beet, Tara fled from the Famine Office muttering "So s-sorry. S-sorry. I d-d-d-don't know what c-c-came over me" over and over again. Goddess, do I kiss my Willow with this mouth?
Tara dragged her tired body down the stairs again, nearly toppling over a few times. By the time she had reached the second floor, she felt like a zombie after just having been spit out of the grave. She stumbled across the room, took the writ of acquisition from a small basket near the Early Delivery window and looked back to the door labelled 'stairs'. Tara decided against it and to have a sit in the cafeteria first.
She collapsed in one of the folding white chairs on a small terrace near the lobby, throwing her head back and being so grateful to be able to rest her tired legs. "Waitress? Miss?" she called over. "C-could I h-have a..."
"Hey!" snapped the cloaked waitress. "I'm not a 'waitress'! I'm a 'Beverage Relocation Manager', just look at my name tag.
"P-please," Tara groaned. "Just give m-me a coffee..."
The waitress grunted. "In a minute, miss, in a minute."
Great. I'm completely destroyed now... and I'll never be able to make my lunch date with Willow. Lousy bureaucrats... Tara thought.
"Tara, is that you?" Tara heard a familiar voice speak to her. "I thought I heard your voice."
The young Reaper snapped out of her haze to find Mort standing at the cappuchino machine. She was grateful for a friendly face, even if it was a face she'd never been able to see before. "You look tired," she heard him say.
"Yes," Tara sighed. "I was trying to deliver my souls, but..."
"How are things between you and, um, what was her name again? Larch?" Mort said.
Tara shook her head and whispered softly, making sure nobody was listening in before answering. "It's Willow. And things are wonderful between us."
"Ah, good, good," Mort said. "Well, I was here to deliver my souls are well. Like you, I hand them in every friday, as you might remember."
"How?" Tara said sarcastically. "I've been trying for the last two hours, but nobody wants to take them from me."
Mort smirked for a moment and looked over Tara's shoulder. "Ah, let me be your teacher one last time. PAUL!" he called over. Tara looked over her shoulder to see a young man pushing a mail-cart across the lobby. As soon as Mort had called to him, he wheeled his cart towards him and Tara.
"Hiya, mister Ripley," Paul greeted cheerfully.
Mort took out his container of souls and a wallet from which he fished out a fiver. "Paul, here's five bucks. Can you get these souls to the appropriate department?"
Paul eagerly took the souls and the money. "Sure thing, mister Ripley. Here, let me write you a receipt."
Tara blinked, her mouth agape. "Always remember one thing," Mort grinned. "In every office, you should always either befriend or bridge the mail clerks."
"Uhm, P-paul?" Tara asked. "C-c-could you take my s-souls as well? I'll g-g-ive you f-five dollars?"
"Deal, ma'am," Paul smiled. "I'll write you a receipt when Mister Ripley's is ready."
Yes! I can make my lunchdate with Willow now... and no stairs! No stairs is good. Love no stairs. Stairs are bad. Very bad in a heart-attack-y kinda way.
"That should ease your burden," Mort shrugged.
Then, finally, one little fact jumped right in the front of Tara's mind. "Your name is... Mort Ripley?"
"That was cruel of my mother, wasn't it?"
"How dare you stare at me like that, Malfoy!" challenged Hermione while covered herself, having just lost great parts of her robe falling off her broomstick and landing in the prickly bush near the Quidditch patch.
"What?! How dare you imply that I stare at you like that, Granger!" Draco snorted angrily. "Why, you're nothing but a filthy... a filthy little mudb... mu... Oh, I can't hide it any more, Hermione! I am so desperately and completely in love with you!"
"Malfoy," Hermione gasped. "I... I have a confession to make to. I... I'm so much in love with you too.... I... It's wrong, but..."
"No, it is not wrong," Draco sighed. "Finally, we can be together for all eternity, celebrating our love to the heavens. Oh, Hermione, it shall be grand."
"Yes!" Hermione swooned as she flew into Draco's arms and smothered him with kisses. "I love you, Draco! To bugger with that dorkward Ron, I only want you and only you forever!"
"I love you, Hermione!" Draco sighed. "And damn what my horrible, disgusting and evil dad thinks!"
"So, what do ya think?" Dawn practically bounced in her seat, eager to hear Tara's praise for her very first fanfic.
"Ummmmmm," Tara started while pouring over the printed page. Well, Dawnie, it's crap... Crap of the highest order. Crappola du jour. But I can't say that to her, of course. Poor Dawnie, she'd be crushed.
"Of course," Dawn started nervously. "It's only a first draft...."
"It's, um," Tara started. "Uhmmm... It needs a little work," she said, but after seeing Dawn's face starting to fall, she quickly added : "B-but it's a d-diamond in the r-rough." Yeah, that definitely sounds better than 'cowpat in a muddy meadow'.
"You think so?!" Dawn grinned so radiantly, it could blind a person. "Cool! Cause I have so many other story-ideas. Like one that stars an original character who's an american exchange student called Sunset Winters. She comes to Hogwarts and has a torrid love-affair with professor Snape. Oh, and another story where Hermione gets a goth make-over. Oh, my god, imagine the angst! I'll show them to you when they're finished."
Oh, sweet Death, no... But, I shouldn't nip Dawnie's foray into creative writing in the bud. Better let her down easy. "Uhm, Dawnie? I'm not really of the P-p-potter. M-maybe y-you should show them to someone who is?" Tara tried.
"Oh, come on," Dawn grinned. "Everybody likes Harry Potter! Well, everybody except Xander... and Buffy... and Kit... and Carlos... and Anya... But everybody else likes Harry Potter! Oh, gotta show mom!"
Just as Dawn rose from the booth, while Xander and Willow just entered the Espresso Pump. "She liked it!" Dawn squealed at them while she rushed past. "She really liked it!"
How does she manage to look to radiant every single time she enters the room? Tara smiled to herself as she watched Willow.
Willow chuckled for a moment and sat in the booth besides Tara, taking her hand. "Hey, baby," she greeted while leaning into Tara. Alright, I can take a hint, Tara smiled and kissed the top of Willow's head.
"Hey, sweetie," Tara greeted. "How was class?"
"Exciting as always," Willow smiled. "How was the story?"
"That bad, huh?" Xander winked.
"Oh, yes," Tara sighed.
Willow smiled slightly. "She'll get better, I'm sure of it."
"What did you tell her, sweetie?" Tara spoke with a twinkle in her eye.
"Oh... Only that she writes better than Tolstoy," Willow offered Tara a very kissable lopsided grin. "Little white lie... Well, big white lie, actually. Big white Moby Dick-esque whale of a lie."
Xander scraped his throat. "Well... this coming from someone who used to write C3PO/R2D2 slash when she was twelve."
"XANDER!" Willow exclaimed, a horrified look etched on her face.
Tara was confused. "Sea-three... piyo?" What are they talking about?
"Yeah, Wills had a bit of a Star Wars fixation back then," Xander grinned at Willow's embarrasment. "Centering on the love between two droids. A love that dares not speak its name."
"Ah, Star Wars," Tara said. "That's, um, space ships and people in silly costumes, right?"
Xander fell silent for a moment... and another moment. "Okay, I think we've just decided on next video-night's theme, Dr. Wills."
"I believe you're right, Dr. Xander," Willow smiled at Tara.
"Does Dr. Tara have a say in this?" Tara smirked.
"Nope, because you're not a real doctor," Xander winked.
At least I could finish lunch with Willow and Xander before being called, Tara thought as she found herself standing in a nursing home. Tara stood at the bed of an elderly lady, laying comfortably in her bed.
Tara felt her impending death in the air. This lady had led a long life, experienced both happiness and sorrow. And now she lay here, dying all alone in a room where her family had dumped her when she had become too much of a burden.
"Don't worry," Tara whispered softly to the old lady, even though she couldn't hear her in her ethereal form. Her hand folded over that of the lady's. "I'm going to take care of you from here."
The lady's breathing became more and more shallow. Finally, her soul started to rise from her body as she let out her final breath.
Tara smiled softly and gently, very gently took the woman's soul to carefully place it into her container.
As soon as Tara has brought the soul to her house for safekeeping, she gathered some ingredients from her fridge and teleported right inside Willow's home. Tara removed her hood, put down her ingredients and removed her cloak. Being on call every hour of the day, she always had to have her cloak nearby. Seeing as she frequently slept over at Willow's apartment, her lover had given her some closet space. She usually put the folded cloak in a bag and hid it at out of sight in her part of the dresser, until she found out Willow had started borrowing her shirts. Tara figured stashing her cloak underneath the sink behind the garbage disposal unit was much safer.
Alright, let's get started. She got to work in Willow's kitchen, putting pans on the stove and prepping the ingredients for use. Salmon filet, mayonnaise, red onions, bell pepper, roma tomatoes, button mushrooms, peppercorns, guacamole butter, limes... Got everything.
While she was still working, halfway through preparing the meal, she heard the front door opening. She's home early, Tara thought, feeling a mixture of disappointment that she wouldn't to be able to see the look on her face, and a measure of elation that she'd see Willow earlier than expected.
"Hmm," Tara heard Willow say while she felt two arms encircle her from behind. "Somethin' sure smells nice around here."
"Oh?" Tara smiled, enjoying Willow's closeness, especially when she felt her lover laying her head on her shoulder. "Me or the meal?"
"Both. Hmmm, Tara-hair..." Willow whispered and sniffed Tara's hair for good measure... until she spotted what was in the pot.. "Oh! Are those button mushrooms? I love button mushrooms!"
"Oh, you're dropping me for fungus-growths now, hm?" Tara smiled, pretending to be insulted and huffy for a moment. "Get out of my kitchen! Out!"
Willow, in turn, pretended to be all docile and frightful. "Oh, sorry, dear miss. I only wanted to steal a kiss from the lovely chef."
"There'll be enough time for that later," Tara smirked. She playfully and softly swatted at Willow's bottom with a cooking spatula as the redhead was escaping from the kitchen.
"Sheesh, sheesh, I can take a hint," Willow chuckled. "Got some extra study-time before dinner, then."
Tara smiled and shook her head. "Willow, sweetie? You're always study-girl and school's over for today. Why don't you read a proper book?"
Willow raised an eyebrow. "This is a proper book, baby," Willow challenged, flipped open her text-book and held it out for Tara to see. "See? It has words and everything."
Ah, the vagaries of being desperately in love with a genius, Tara thought. "Alright, have fun, sweetie," Tara smiled, rolling her eyes in an heavily exaggerated way.
"Hey!" Willow pouted, "I love studying. Studying is good for the soul. So there."
Tara cooked. Willow studied. Both of them chattered about odds and bits, until Tara was ready to serve their meal. Although Willow didn't own a kitchen table, Tara found sitting close to each other on Willow's couch with their plates on their laps far more intimate. After putting some scented candles on Willow's coffee table and dimming the lights, the couple sat back on the couch and started their meal.
Willow gave Tara some appreciative looks when she started to eat, but remained oddly quiet during the meal. At times, Willow stopped eating and briefly bit her lower lip, as if wanting to say something. But every time, she just quickly took another bite.
Wondering what was going on, Tara decided it was best to just ask. "Willow, sweetie?" she asked gently. "Is something wrong?"
Willow looked stricken for a moment, but quickly recovered. "No! No, no, no, no..." Willow shook her head. "It's just that," she started to say, looking away from Tara and taking a deep breath. "Well, tomorrow camping and all, and... Much camping-trip-y goodness."
Tara smiled. Tomorrow would be the first time she'd join Willow and her friends on their regular camping trips.
"And tomorrow," Willow swallowed hard. "We'll be camping at Lake Clarity. Oh, it's just the most beautiful place you've ever seen. It'll be a full moon tomorrow. Wait till you see the moonlight reflecting off the water, it's the most romantic spot you've ever seen and..." Willow bit her lip again.
"Willow, sweetie," Tara took Willow's hand and squeezed it slightly. "What are you trying to say?"
"Well, um, we... love each other muchly. Uhm, we've been kissing, hugging... quite a lot. I, um, I've been thinking it's, um, you know, time to, um... take the next step?" Willow said, looking decidedly pale.
What's she trying to say? "Sweetie?" Tara asked.
Willow couldn't meet Tara's eyes and bowed her head slightly. "Tara, baby... We, um, could, um, pursue a... um, something of a more, um, physical side to our relationship," Willow said, swallowing hard. "We, um, don't sleep together. Uh, well, we do sleep together in a snuggling sorta way, but we don't sleep sleep together, but ... we could sleep sleep together. I mean, I've never... slept slept with somebody before and, um... I want to... with you. Tomorrow night... at the most romantic spot I've ever seen."
Oh, goddess... Oh, goddess, Tara felt her eyes grew wide. Breathe normally, Maclay. Calm down. Oh, goddess... my sweet Willow wants to... www...with me. Me of all people. Oh, goddess, what a great gift...
Tara was surprised to see Willow avoiding her eyes, looking very sadly. I haven't said anything yet... She... she must think I'm rejecting her. Oh, poor Willow. Knowing her, she must have been planning this to the smallest of details for weeks! Okay, Tara, calm down. Calm down. Say something. Shouldn't leave her in suspense like this!
Tara reached over to stroke her hand through Willow's hair. The redhead turned towards her, her deep green eyes sparkling with hope and anticipation.
"T-t-t-t-t-tomorrow n-night, then," Tara whispered, fighting her nerves and feeling a blush creep over her cheeks. When she looked at Willow again, she found the red-haired beauty smiling lovingly at her.
"Good. Good," Willow let out a deep breath. "Cause, that's what I was asking... And just how dorky did that just sound?"
"N-not so dorky at all," Tara brushed a lock of hair from Willow's face.
The two lovers brushed lips briefly and decided to turn in for an early night. They'd be leaving for Buffy's house early tomorrow, after all. After changing into their night attires, Willow and Tara found themselves embracing each other in Willow's bed, which, being slightly smaller than Tara's bed, gave them an excellent excuse to sleep embraced. But long after Willow had fallen asleep, Tara was still wide awake and finding her hands trembling when the sheer weight of Willow's request had started to sink in.
Faith... Gotta see Faith...