"-and ignore what Anya says; she's just being herself, though Xander promised me she would be on her best behaviour. And you." Willow rounded on Faith sternly. "Best behaviour from you, too. Not putting ideas in Dawnie's head."
Faith, already recovered from her brief, antagonistic feelings towards Willow, grinned, and said, "She'll listen to me? Cool."
Willow held up a warning finger. "I'm serious, Faith. She gets enough bad influence from Anya. And, speaking of Anya, no teasing her about her bunny phobias."
"Bunny phobias," Faith scoffed quietly, but, on Willow's dark look, silenced herself. As rebellious as she acted, she didn't want to lose the job she actually enjoyed, though she had only gotten it because of Tara.
Speaking of Tara... Faith grabbed Willow's arm, and pulled her slightly away from Riley, who was waiting, jingling his keys, for Faith. "Hey, Red. I know you had that whole situation last week where you couldn't stop staring at Tara's boobs-"
Willow flushed beet red once more, and stared at her feet.
"-but try and make her stay in bed, rest, alright? I think that bruise is a lot more serious than she's letting on; see, that's what she does, she pretends she's not in any pain. So, please, try and get her to-ready to go, Ri?"
Riley, who had come up behind them, trying to catch a word of their urgent conversation, blinked once at being caught, and then shuffled slightly away. "Ready, Faith."
As Faith followed him out the door, she turned, and mouthed: "Remember- keep her in bed, make her rest. Screw her for all I care, just keep her in bed and don't hit her shoulder. Don't let her ride any horses. Light lifting, only." And then she was out the in door, somehow managing to cross the threshold while walking backwards without tripping.
"And you remember! No making fun of Anya- watch your language around Dawnie! Be nice to everyone, even Buffy!"
"Yeah, yeah," She heard Faith yell back, and then the Chevy engine roared to life, and they were gone.
Willow sighed, and waited until the engine faded before she turned, and headed for the kitchen. She never could quite start the day without coffee, and five-thirty was a little too early in the morning for her, but her friends' plan was scheduled to arrive at eight-thirty, so Faith and Riley had to leave early. Tara and Riley were usually up at six, and by the time they'd both showered and eaten, Faith was usually up at seven, and then she managed to get out to the stable by eight, an hour after Tara and Riley. It was usually between eight and ten that Willow dragged herself out of bed to have her morning cup of coffee.
So Willow was still in her fuzzy flannel PJ's- her favourite pink ones with the brown spots- when she poured her first cup of coffee, and it didn't make her too threatening when she said: "And where do you think you're going?"
Tara turned, flinching guiltily and cursing her bad luck. The one day she had an injured shoulder and wasn't supposed to be working, Willow was up early enough to catch her trying to sneak out. "To do my job...?" She turned the answer into a question without meaning to.
"Your job? The one where you ride dangerous animals? I don't think so." Willow swallowed her cup of coffee to keep her from turning into a real monster, then turned to face Tara. "Not with that injury, you're not."
"B-but W-Wil..." She blushed as she said the name, and her arms subconsciously crossed over her chest, though she had promised herself that she was just going to act as if the whole incident had never happened. "The horses n-need to be feed, and the s-stalls mucked."
"Then I'll do it!" Willow put her coffee mug in the sink, and marched towards the door, prepared to go face the horses if it meant keeping Tara in bed, fuzzy pink flannel PJ's and all.
Tara grabbed her elbow when she headed for the coat rack. "That's kind of you, s-sweetie, but I d-don't think so. You're t-terrified of horses."
Willow stalled for a minute, trying to think of an excuse that didn't reveal her undying devotion to Tara and completely scare her off. "Umm...maybe so, but I'm the owner of a horse ranch, so it's time I got over that fear. Besides, I have to take care of my ranch hands; that's my job, uh huh. So, if you'll just excuse me..." She wanted to pull her elbow away, but she was afraid to, wondering if it would be the last time Tara would ever touch her. Still, she stretched out her arm, reaching for her coat, trying to get it without pulling her elbow free.
"Right." Tara tightened her grip, and pulled Willow away, right into her arms without meaning to. She let go quickly, all but the hand that now gripped her right arm, blushing fiercely. "T-that's really sweet of you, Wil, but it's my job, and I'm n-not injured."
"Uh, yes, you are," Willow muttered, but she had lost her resolve as soon as Tara's warm arms had wrapped around her. She shook her head, trying to clear it before Tara used her daze to her advantage. "Fine. You know what? If you're not gonna rest, then you're gonna teach me. You're going to take care of one horse only, and you're going to show me how, and then you are coming straight back in here to rest. Boss's order."
"W-Wil, I really think-"
"Please? Tara, I really don't want you to get hurt further because of me." Willow pulled out her best puppy-dog eyes, which usually always worked on Buffy.
Of course, Tara's will was a bit weaker than Buffy's, especially when it came to Willow, and her resolve crumbled. "Fine. One horse, then rest. I need to finish my Christmas presents, anyway."
"Yay!" Willow cheered, skipping over to the coat rack when Tara had let her go. She grabbed both their coats, and then realized what she was doing, and stopped her bouncing, clearing her throat, and trying to be sombre. "I-I mean...very good, Miss Maclay."
Tara rolled her eyes, and laughed at her, that same musical laugh that Willow had not heard in quite some time. "You goof."
Willow beamed, pleased with herself for making her laugh. "That'd be me. Now, how does this work? You don't have to use a pitchfork, do you?"
"A-actually, you do. To fork out the old hay, and s-such."
Willow laughed nervously. "Great. A pitchfork. No problem. Tara?"
"Keep a good distance from me, okay?"
Tara gave her a puzzled look. "I-if you say so."
"Trust me, it's for your own good."
Tara sat at her desk, and stared absently out the window. It was four hours later, and Willow still hadn't returned from the stables. Tara knew that Willow was new to the whole horse thing, but it usually took her and Faith an two hours or so to muck out stalls, feed, and groom, and she was starting to get a little worried.
A loud "OUCH!" from somewhere out the open window, and Tara jumped to her feet, hurrying over so she could push out the screen, and lean out the window. "Willow?"
Willow's crimson hair caught her attention as she peeked out of the front door of the stables- which Tara had a clear view of, thanks to Faith graciously allowing her first pick of the rooms- and she waved.
"I'm okay! Just tripped! Really, I'm fine! You go back to resting!" She shouted.
Tara smiled. "W-Wil, you don't have to yell; I'm right here. Are you s-sure you don't need help?"
"Positive," Willow called back, lowering her voice so it was just above normal volume. "Go rest."
"I-if you say so..." Since Willow had blocked her entry and yelled "NA-UH-UH!" every time she had attempted to enter the stables to help, Tara knew it was a lost battle. She slipped the screen back in, still smiling, and went back to her desk.
Her various Christmas presents were spread across the desk. In her four hours, she had finished Riley's and Faith's, since both had only needed minor fixes before they were finished. Buffy's, Dawn's, Anya's, and Xander's were all store-bought- just little knick-knacks Willow had helped her pick out, despite her protests that they didn't need presents.
It was just Willow's left, and it was the one that was taking up the most time, even more than Faith's. She wanted it to be perfect, and even the slightest mistake, and she would start all over again. It was going to be perfect, if it killed Tara to do so.
She sighed, and picked up a pair of scissors, but when her eye caught the clock, and she saw what time it was, she jumped to her feet, and ran to the window, popping out the screen so she could yell: "W-Willow! Willow!"
There was a screech and a loud curse from somewhere in the stables, but Willow reappeared in the doorway, picking hay from her hair. "Yeah? Tara, what is it?"
"Ten-thirty! It's t-ten-thirty! They'll be here in a-any minute!"
"W-Willow! Hurry u-up!"
"Bu-but I'm not done yet!"
Tara almost said that she would finish, but she knew better than that. Instead, she shouted back: "F-Faith and Riley w-will get it when they get back!"
"Okay! Coming! Crap, crap, crap...!" Willow disappeared, only to fly back into view, making a break for the house.
Tara really hoped she'd hurry; she didn't fancy the idea of meeting Willow's friends on her own, not with her crippling shyness. She pulled the screen back into place, and shut her window to the sound of feet pounding up the stairs, and Willow cursing, and shook her head, smiling to herself Hearing the water turning on in Willow's private bathroom, she sighed, gathered the Christmas presents together, hiding them in the back of her closet like she always did. Willow's would have to be finished tonight, late tonight, if it meant a lack of sleep or not. She shut her door on her way out, grabbed a towel from the linen closet, and headed for the bathroom she shared with Faith.
Fifteen minutes later, she was out of the shower, and dressed in a semi-formal black skirt that flowed and rippled down just above her ankles, a navy-blue blouse, and high, lace-up black boots that were almost completely covered by her skirt. Her hair, she dried, then brushed and fussed with until she managed to get it up in a high ponytail, leaving a bit of her bangs over her forehead down.
There. She examined herself briefly in the mirror. Decent enough to meet Willow's friends, but not too over-dressy...at least, she hoped. Tara bit her lip
But she didn't have time to change. The roar of the Chevy interrupted her as she reached for the closet door, and her time was up. With one last nervous glance at herself in the mirror, and a quick fix of her hair, she was heading down the hall. She paused briefly at Willow's door, but, judging by the thuds and curses, Willow was not ready to join her.
"W-Wil? Are you...?"
"Fine!" Willow called back breathlessly, "I'm fine! Go on without me; I'll be done in a minute!"
"O-Okay..." Tara cleared her dry throat, and continued the long, perilous journey down the stairs, praying she wouldn't trip and embarrass herself. She gripped the railing with one sweaty hand to help her balance when she nearly tripped up on the third stair, and then found herself face to face with a group of people she didn't know.
"O-oh..." She fumbled with her words as she continued her descent down the stairs, blushing when Faith caught her eye across the room, and winked, grinning. "I-I'm Tara. You m-m-must be..." -She paused for a moment, and looked at Buffy- "Buffy. And you're" -She nodded to Dawn-"Dawn, which means you two are Xander and Anya. I-It's a p-p-pleasure."
Tara pressed her lips together before she could say anything stupid, cursing herself for her stutter.
Anya stepped up to study Tara silently for a moment. "Hm. So you're Willow's orgasm friend?"
Tara's eyes went wide as saucers, and her mouth worked soundlessly for a moment as she tried to speak; her face went a deep pink.
Luckily, Faith came to her rescue. "'Ey, Tare! Where is Red?" She weaved her way easily through the group until she could stand in front of Tara. The smirk on her face was too much; Tara went bright red, and stared at her feet. So much for a rescue.
"S-s-s-she..." Tara cleared her throat, and tried again. "W-Wil was working in the stables...uh, w-with me, and l-lost track of time. S-she's just finishing g-getting ready."
Just as she was finishing her last word, Willow came bounding down the stairs, all grins, cheeks flushed- No one could tell just minutes ago she was cursing and falling in her room, Tara thought, amused- when, all of sudden, her feet caught, and she lurched forward, falling head-first for the bottom stair.
"Wil!" Tara was there before Buffy could even move, catching her before she injured herself on the wooden stairs. She tried to steady them both, but, in the end, they both ended up on the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. Tara's right arm was twisted painfully behind her back, the other pinned underneath Willow, and Willow was pretty much on top of her, and she had just embarrassed herself in front of all of Willow's friends, but, at that moment, she had never been happier.
Willow's face was inches from her's, her lips a hairsbreadth from Tara's. A stray strand of her crimson hair tickled her nose; Tara pulled her right arm free, and tucked it gently behind Willow's ear.
A loud wolf whistle from Faith startled them both into reality; Willow scrambled to detangle herself from Tara, and get to her feet.
"Oh, shit, Tara, I'm so sorry!" She scrambled to her feet, then helped Tara up. "God, I'm so clumsy! I didn't-"
"I'm o-okay." Tara smiled, blushed, and turned her eyes to her feet once more. "I-it's okay. I almost f-fell, too."
Buffy laughed behind them. "Geez, Wil, you haven't changed one bit."
Willow beamed, and, as she turned to hug Buffy, her fingers brushed Tara's, and she gave Tara's hand a brief squeeze. "Buffy! I've missed you so much!"
"Oh, and you haven't missed me?" Dawn was indignant.
"Of course I have, Dawnie, you goof! C'mere!" Pretty soon Xander and Anya were pulled into the embrace. Tara, Faith, and Riley stood off to the side, letting the friends reconnect.
"Nice catch," Faith muttered to Tara, grinning, and nudging her in the ribs. "I saw that whole move with the hair. Very smooth."
Oh, god. Tara just stared at her feet and didn't answer.
This is going well.