Author: Chris Cook
Long Beach, California
"They're prepping the helipad for another guest," Tara noted, still watching the distant cruise liner through her binoculars.
"Busy boys," Willow said.
"How're you going?"
"Getting close." Willow's attention was also fixed on her binoculars, but instead of magnifying the view ahead of her, a pair of stereoscopic LCD screens were showing her the view from a remote submarine probe, currently nearing the hull of the Disco Volante from beneath.
"Careful," she muttered to herself, adjusting the focus control on the binoculars slightly. Half a mile away the probe altered its course, dipping down to stay far enough beneath the water's surface as to be invisible from above. Safely concealed, Willow brought the probe's nose back up, and the underside of the huge liner swung back into view.
"I can see a few security guards here and there," Tara commented, "just doing their rounds. Nothing unusual. I'd bet they don't have a clue about their little uninvited guest."
"Not surprising," Willow chuckled, "that 'guest' is sonar-proof. But we're not, so this'll require some tricky piloting... there it is."
"The submarine hatch?" Tara asked.
"Right where Fred's blueprints said it'd be," Willow nodded. "Doesn't look like they're using it, the outer shield is closed up tight... I guess no-one's interested in taking a tour of the sea bed when there's partying to be done... and there's our little sentry."
"Sonar scanner, right above it." Willow adjusted her view from the probe, zooming in. "Nice one too, I bet that gives a very precise scan. We'll have to do something about that."
Long Beach, California
The probe, a tiny remote-controlled robot submarine, spun down its manoeuvring propellers and drifted for a moment. Tiny ports opened on its hull, fore and aft, and a minute ripple signalled where water was being drawn in at the front and pushed out behind. Leaving scarcely a ripple in its wake, the probe began to close in on the liner's large submarine hatch.
Long Beach, California
"Contact with flight, civilian Sierra Echo X-Ray Yankee One," the radio officer reported. "Pilot gives the word as 'banana'."
Standing next to the ship's captain, Daniel Osbourne flinched slightly.
"Your operative?" the captain asked.
"That's her," Daniel nodded. "I want full clearance for her."
"Signal helipad, stand down security detachment," the captain ordered.
On the half-dozen screens around the bridge showing the sonar read-outs from the ship's various scanners, none registered even a blip.
Long Beach, California
Just above the submarine hatch the remote probe swung gently around, parallel to the hull, and settled against it with barely a sound. Tiny magnetic coils extended and gripped the hull, keeping it in place.
A side panel opened, and a delicate mechanical arm extended towards the sonar scanner which protruded from the hull just half a metre away.
Long Beach, California
"Now here's the tricky part," Willow muttered. "Sonar receiver on, taking point one per cent signal strength... let me know if they suddenly start racing around like someone's kicked over an ant hill."
"No trouble so far," Tara reported. She lowered her binoculars and gave the beach a quick glance before looking back at the ship. "In fact, our teenage admirers have given up and moved on."
"I don't know whether to be relieved or disappointed," Willow quipped. "If it'd been me, I'd have stared at you all day."
"If it'd been you," Tara grinned back, "you'd have been able to do more than just look."
"Got a signal," Willow reported, all business. "One, two, three, four, five, six, sev- Six and a half second scan cycle."
"Is that long enough?"
"A couple of years ago, it wouldn't have been," Willow said, adjusting the binoculars' hidden controls, "but then, a couple of years ago we didn't have the gorgeous miniaturised processors we've got now. Five would've been enough. Now, we just have to record the outgoing and incoming signal, interpolate, then clamp our little friend's 'blindfold' over the scanner and give it signals to make it think it's still seeing an empty ocean floor."
"Then?" Tara asked.
"Then," Willow grinned, "we could swim out there towing an inflatable sheep behind us, and that scanner still wouldn't register so much as a blip."
"Do we have an inflatable sheep?" Tara wondered. Willow chuckled, then suddenly frowned in thought.
"I don't know," she said, "do you think Anya would've packed one?"
"You never know," Tara shrugged. "Best not to wonder."
Long Beach, California
The probe's robot arm reach out towards the sonar scanner, paused a moment, then moved over it. Tiny cushioned pads closed over the scanner, blinding it, and the probe settled once more into immobility.
Long Beach, California
"It's done," Willow reported, "any movement at the station?"
"I can't see inside," Tara said, keeping her binoculars trained on the liner, "but nothing looks urgent on deck. The detachment on the helipad has gone, but it didn't look like a rapid redeployment, the guards just stood down and wandered off. Wait a moment, I'll go to thermal." She fiddled with the binoculars, then squinted into them.
"Anything?" Willow asked.
"I don't think so. It's not easy to see, there's a lot of heat bouncing around, and at this range... everything looks fairly still though. I can't resolve individual people on the bridge, but it doesn't look like anyone's moving around much. I'd say you've successfully pulled the wool over their eyes."
"Inflatable sheep wool?" Willow joked.
"I'm starting to worry about you," Tara grinned back. She collected Willow's binoculars and handed them, and her own pair, to the lifeguards manning the look-out.
"Ready?" Willow asked, picking up her float.
"Let's get wet," Tara quipped. Willow leaned over to give her a quick kiss on the cheek, then the pair took off at a steady jog towards the water.
"Oh, oh wait!" Willow exclaimed when they were half-way there.
"What?" Tara asked.
"Running along the beach, in these outfits," Willow gestured at her baywatch swimsuit, "shouldn't we be doing this in slow-motion?" Tara stared at her for a moment, then burst out laughing.
"You goof," she laughed, putting an arm around Willow's shoulders and hugging her.
"Uh-huh," Willow cheerfully agreed. "That laugh's worth being a goof for." Tara shook her head in amusement, then slung her float across her shoulder, freeing both hands, and pulled Willow into a passionate kiss. Various beach-goers stared in amazement, and there were a couple of cheers from the teenagers. Willow cared not at all, all her attention being focussed on Tara's open lips pressing firmly against hers, and her tongue darting out to taste her mouth.
"I love you," Tara murmured, when she finally leaned back just a fraction from Willow, still brushing their lips together as she spoke.
"Um, yeah," Willow replied, breathless, "something gave me that impression... love you too."
"Let's go," Tara grinned. "The good people of Long Beach will have to find something else to entertain them for a while." Willow nodded, and they jogged off again, splashing into the water until it was deep enough, then launching themselves forward in identical flat dives.
Willow surfaced first, her head popping up in the wake of a wave, and she grinned when she was Tara's float being tugged along just ahead of her. Another wave passed, and Tara surfaced as the swell moved off towards the beach.
"Good dive," Willow called as she swum closer.
"Strong legs," Tara replied, "and I'm good at holding my breath." Willow laughed.
"Admit it," she said, "you said that on purpose just to get my mind in a naughty place."
"Who me?" Tara asked, feigning surprise. "I'm innocent until proven naughty." They ducked under the water as a wave passed, and resurfaced a few metres further out.
"What do I have to do to prove it?" Willow challenged playfully.
"Catch me if you can," Tara said with a wink, and then she flipped over and vanished, with a splash and a tempting glimpse of her swimsuit-clad bottom.
"Alright then," Willow said to herself, grinning, "if that's how you want it... there's no way I'm gonna let you be the one that got away." She chuckled to herself, then ducked under the surface and vanished from sight.
Underwater, a quick twist of her float's cable ring caused several concealed panels to open, one releasing a flurry of bubbles, decreasing the float's buoyancy, two opening the inlet and jet for a miniaturised hydro-traction system that pulled Willow forward and down, and one releasing a breather which Willow grabbed as it floated gently by. To her chagrin, when she and Tara had checked their equipment beforehand the breather proved to be disguised as a ball gag - 'Typical Anya,' Tara had commented - but on the plus side, it contained an efficient oxygen extraction system, an artificial gill in essence, that drew in water through its outer surface, released breathable air through the inner, and discharged the remaining water from tiny vents in the straps.
Willow put it on, trying not to blush too much, and found it quite a bit more comfortable than she's expected - the ball compressed easily in her mouth, alleviating her worries of ending up with a severely sore jaw by the end of their underwater trip. She took a moment to accustom herself to breathing in through her mouth, out through her nose, and to opening her eyes underwater, protected as they were by ultra-fine scleral contacts, then looked around to locate Tara, spotting her easily up ahead, swimming along with her jet-float held in front of her.
She set off in pursuit, turning her jet-float up to its full speed and kicking lazily to give herself a little extra boost. Tara kept to a straight line, so Willow spent a moment to call up the submarine probe's telemetry on her watch, and set an alarm to make sure they didn't accidentally swim into the perimeter range of the liner's working sonar scanners. She transmitted the information to Tara's watch, and a confirmation signal came back a moment later, with an attached message: "Bet you can't catch me before the perimeter."
Willow grinned, so far as her breather would allow, and tapped out a reply on her watch's miniature keypad, thankful for all the times she and Buffy had worked up hundred-dollar SMS bills in high school for the fluency it gave her at 'typing' with only a numeric pad to work with.
"What if I do?" she sent back. She looked ahead to see Tara glance down at her wrist, then back over her shoulder, and even at that distance she was sure she saw the twinkle in her eyes.
"To the victor go the spoils," came the reply a moment later. Willow watched Tara accelerate away, skimming over the sandy ocean floor.
'Time to spoil myself, then' she grinned as she pursued her.
Tara glanced over her shoulder to see Willow skimming along behind her, on her right side. 'Of course she can't catch me,' Tara mused, 'she's got the same jet-float I do... maybe she's a touch lighter, but I bet I can kick harder to make up for it... all I really have to do is keep going straight ahead.' She grinned to herself. 'Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?'
She took another glance to judge her distance, then twisted her arms to flip her jet over, and kicked out sideways, sending herself end-over-end, rushing back right above a very surprised Willow. Tara felt Willow's fingertips just barely brush her back through her swimsuit, but then she was away in open water.
"Too slow," she typed on her watch.
"We'll see," came the reply. Tara glanced back to try to find Willow, and only just saw her in time, rising up from underneath. She scissored her legs out to either side, pushing herself forward just enough for Willow to sail between them, before backflipping and jetting back down towards the seabed.
Willow was in hot pursuit, coming straight at Tara from her left, kicking as hard as she could to increase her speed. Tara winked and managed a barrel-roll over Willow as she passed, but then had to turn sharply away as Willow, anticipating her move, swung her legs down to dig her heels into the sand and kicked off straight up.
'Nice,' Tara grinned to herself, 'always thinking a move ahead... pity I'm two.'
Her grin vanished when she looked around and couldn't see Willow anywhere. She took a quick glance at her watch, but its telemetry from Willow's was still coming in, and it would only have taken a tap to signal a problem. 'Which means she's deliberately up to something,' Tara frowned, looking to one side then the other, up above, down below, down further to look back behind herself... Willow was nowhere to be seen.
'Okay Maclay, think. She's a trained pilot, she knows all the tricks, this is basically a dogfight... what do you do in a dogfight, you... get in your enemy's blind spot. I'm not a plane, I don't have a blind spot... except-'
Tara quickly rolled over, and her eyes widened involuntarily to find Willow jetting along right on top of her, holding her jet-float behind her back one-handed rather than in front of her, to keep it out of Tara's peripheral vision when she was facing forward. With her other hand she pulled out her breather and gave Tara a playful kiss on the tip of her nose.
'You win,' Tara signed one-handed, using the abbreviated sign language taught for stealth missions.
'Darn tootin,' Willow replied, which took some time as she had to spell each word out letter by letter. Finishing, she remembered to put her breather back in place, and she and Tara fell into formation side by side.
"Good lungs," Tara messaged on her watch.
"Comes from babbling," Willow replied. "Most inconsiderate of the Ministry not to have a stealth sign for 'darn tootin'."
"So you caught me," Tara typed out, winking at Willow as she did so, "what are you going to do with me?" Willow grinned, and quickly typed a reply.
"The usual - reel you in, get rid of the non-tasty outer layer-" Willow plucked at Tara's swimsuit just as Tara finished reading the message, then went back to typing.
"-then eat you for dinner, of course."
Tara grinned around her breather, and lazily rolled onto her back.
'Well?' she signed one-handed. Willow frowned for a moment in confusion, then understanding and a smile dawned. She throttled back her jet-float, Tara keeping pace at her side until they were stationary, and Willow could let her float drift to the sand beneath her feet, its weight on the tether around her waist just enough to keep her from floating away. Then she extended her hands and made 'reeling in fishing line' motions, which Tara responded to by holding her jet behind her and pulsing it briefly, making it look as if she was being reeled in.
Tara finally bumped up against Willow, still floating horizontally, while Willow was more or less standing upright. Willow leaned over her and, with both their mouths occupied by breathing apparatus, made do with touching the tip of her nose to the tip of Tara's, and rubbing them gently together.
Tara set her jet-float in neutral then let it drop, curling her arms around Willow's waist and swinging herself slowly upright. She leaned forward, touching her cheek to Willow's, just enjoying the gentle contact of skin on skin, amid the feeling of weightlessness that made it seem as if there was nothing else in the world. She opened her eyes and leaned back to look at Willow, her lovely face surrounded by a halo of floating crimson hair.
Willow stared back at her, equally entranced, and slowly raised a hand to cup Tara's cheek. Everything was slow motion, every motion deliberate and delicate. Tara closed her eyes as Willow's hand touched her cheek, then slowly craned her head back as Willow's fingertips moved down, tracing her jawline, then caressing her throat as she swallowed lightly, and further down to brush against her collarbone.
She felt Willow's hand move across then, to her shoulder, and her fingers gently slid beneath the shoulder strap of her swimsuit. Willow hesitated, and Tara opened her eyes and returned her gaze to her lover. She glanced down at Willow's fingers, stilled in the act of slipping the strap from her shoulder, then regarded her with hooded eyes. Willow moved herself a little closer, holding Tara's shoulder to steady herself.
Tara spared a glance at her watch - just on twenty minutes in. Willow raised a questioning eyebrow as Tara looked back up at her. Tara glanced again at Willow's hand on her shoulder, then nodded slowly, giving Willow her best smouldering stare. Willow took a deep breath that came out a moment later as a flurry of bubbles, and slipped the strap off Tara's shoulder. Tara shrugged it down her arm a little way, glanced at Willow again, then looked at her other shoulder. Willow quickly moved that strap too, and Tara reached up for the straps and gently pulled them further down her arms.
Willow's eyes followed the edge of the swimsuit as it curled over and rolled down Tara's chest, stretching slightly as she breathed in. Inch after inch of smooth skin was revealed, then the crest of her areolae, and the fabric caught there, stuck on Tara's nipples, before she gave a quick tug and freed her breasts entirely.
Willow reached out with both hands, laying them gently on Tara's shoulders before sliding them down, on either side of her breasts, then beneath where she cupped them. Tara arched her back, giving herself into Willow's caress; Willow in turn held her more firmly, stroking her thumbs across the tops of Tara's magnificent breasts, while her fingers squeezed gently.
Willow saw Tara's breathing quicken, but paused on the verge of touching her nipples. An idea struck her, and she couldn't control the grin that quirked up the corners of her mouth. Tara raised an eyebrow, then both as Willow leant back, allowing herself to float a little, and pulled her own swimsuit straps down over her shoulders. Her nipples were already hard, but her smaller breasts gave less resistance as she pulled the suit down to her waist, baring herself. She stepped back into Tara's embrace, and slowly pressed herself against Tara, feeling the softness of her breasts and Tara's yield to each other. Breathing deeply she held Tara by the waist and guided herself, so that her firm nipples brushed against Tara's, up and down, again and again.
She looked up to see the expression she loved most on Tara's face, the mixture of innocent joy and lustful delight that made her seem to glow. She quickened the pace of her gyrations in Tara's arms, pressing her breasts firmly into Tara's, rubbing their nipples together forcefully, aided as Tara moved her body in response, catching her rhythm and amplifying it. Tara's hands snuck under the loose swimsuit around her waist, reaching down to grip Willow's ass, and Willow quickly obliged her by wriggling her hips to let the suit slide free and drift gently to the sand. Willow lifted her legs and wrapped them around Tara's waist, delighting in the sensation of being so completely held. With bubbles billowing around their faces they caressed each other, touching the tips of their noses, rubbing their cheeks together, being together in every way they could.
Gathering her willpower to think and move, Willow unclasped her legs, and gave Tara a reassuring look as she leaned back just a fraction, bending down while she tugged Tara's swimsuit around her ankles, from where it drifted free. She ducked down, her hair streaming after her, and Tara leant into it, closing her eyes as she felt it caress her face. At the same time Willow brushed her cheeks against Tara's breasts, playfully rubbing her nose against her nipples. Moving lower, revelling in the ease of moving with her buoyancy counteracting gravity, she held on to Tara's hips and carefully pulled herself closer, arching her back. She looked up as Tara looked down, and thus she saw the dawning realisation and then pleasure as her nipple touched Tara's sex, moist with more than simply water, and then brushed against her stiffening clit.
Tara bucked her hips, the water causing her motions to be languid rather than sharp, and Willow met her gentle thrusts with her own, pressing her nipple to her lover's clit, feeling her breast grow warm from Tara's skin, and the heated nectar seeping into the water. She held Tara's hips firmly, comfortingly, as she made love to her, closing her eyes and resting her cheek against Tara's stomach as she felt the stirrings of orgasm in the tremors running through her. Cupping her breast and pressing it as far forward as she could she ran her nipple up and down, from Tara's entrance to her clit and back again, sighing into her breather as she felt the muscles in Tara's stomach tremble against her face.
Tara threw back her head and tossed from side to side, feeling her hair float about her and caress her face. Willow admittedly had more skill and control with her fingers, or tongue, but the softness of her breast against Tara's folds, the feeling of her firm nipple poking gently into her, the sheer eroticism of it was ample compensation. She felt Willow press against her leg, felt her centre hot against her shin, and her pleasure was complete.
For Willow, Tara's shuddering, the flow of warmth over her breast, was all she needed to come herself. She wrapped herself tightly around Tara, slowing her motions as they both shook and moaned soundlessly, finally stilling as she felt Tara relax, and a hand gently brushing through her hair.
Letting go, with considerable reluctance, Willow abandoned her place nestled against Tara's stomach and floated up to look her in the eye. The warmth she saw there surpassed anything physical; Tara raised a hand to sign, then hesitated, and instead pointed to herself, then placed her hand over her heart, then over Willow's. Willow nodded, and placed her hand over Tara's. Nothing more needed to be said.
Long Beach, California
The top of Willow's head emerged silently from the pool, and she looked around warily. The room was quite large, enough to contain an Olympic-size swimming pool that served as the home of a short-range submarine pleasure cruiser, its hull composed of almost as much transparent surface as metal. The sub, its ship-side telemetry stations, and the rest of the room looked quite vacant.
Willow quickly pulled herself out of the water, and took the jet-floats, and the remote probe's storage box, that Tara handed to her. She held out a hand to Tara, and with the aid of a strong kick from Tara lifted her out of the water.
"I thought so," she said, peering at Tara's swimsuit once she had taken out her breather.
"You're wearing my suit," Willow grinned.
"I thought it was a bit tight across the bust," Tara chuckled. "Well we can leave that out of the mission report - no need to explain how we managed to switch suits in mid-swim."
"Yeah," Willow grinned to herself, staring off happily into space for a moment before busying herself unpacking their gear.
"Incidentally," Tara surprised her, whispering right into her ear, "once we're back on dry land, I'm going to show you just how good that felt."
"Hmm," Willow smiled, "if I weren't a dedicated professional I'd be tempted to blow off the mission right away."
"Uh-huh," Tara nodded. "Trust me, you really would."
Willow reached up to stroke Tara's cheek, and leaned in for a kiss, opening her lips and feeling the answering caress of Tara's tongue.
"Mmm... I've been waiting half an hour to do that," she grinned.
"We'll have to have Anya invent some kind of breather you can kiss through," Tara said seriously. "I'm sure she'll see the need."
Working quickly they unpacked their gear. From the storage compartments of their jet-floats, nestled between the twin hydro-traction drives, each produced a vacuum-sealed tube marked 'costume' and a serial number. From the remote's storage box came two similar tubes, marked 'wetsuit'.
"How do they fit a whole outfit into these?" Willow wondered, looking at hers.
"I don't know," Tara shrugged, "but ten to one says you can't pack it back in after you've opened it."
"No bet," Willow grinned, "I can't even repack my suitcase after I've opened it. So, now are you gonna tell me who your sex symbol du jour is?"
"No," Tara said patiently, biting her lip to stifle a grin, "it's a surprise, you'll see once I'm dressed."
"Fine," Willow pouted, keeping watch on Tara out of the corner of her eye to see if her patented cute pout was working.
"But as a consolation," Tara eventually said, "you can undress me, if you want..."
"Woohoo!" Willow grinned, clapping quietly. "'If I want'," she added in a disbelieving tone, as she and Tara stood up.
"Don't take too long," Tara cautioned affectionately, "we're on a mission, there is... theoretically," she sighed as Willow kissed her neck, "a limit to how much time we can spend making love..."
"Don't worry," Willow said, "I'm not completely unable to resist you." She moved behind Tara and pulled the shoulder straps of her swimsuit off, again.
"Hmm," Tara said mildly, "that's actually kind of disappointing!" she finished in a squeal, as Willow uncovered her bottom and playfully took a bite at it, gently pressing her teeth into the soft flesh before moving on.
"Okay," Willow admitted, "so I am completely unable to resist you... so sue me."
"I prefer an out-of-court settlement," Tara joked, turning around and slipping down Willow's shoulder straps.
"Uh-huh?" Willow grinned. "What are the terms?"
"Equal division of property," Tara smiled. "This," she crouched as she pulled down the swimsuit, and kissed Willow's stomach, "goes to me, and in return," she grinned seductively and stood straight, striking a sexy pose, hands on hips, "you get everything you see before you."
"Wow," Willow quipped, "the whole submarine bay?" Tara giggled.
"Careful," she said, "I might become disgruntled and go to the court of appeals."
"I'd be sunk then," Willow admitted, "you're as appealing as I can imagine."
"Uh-huh," Tara grinned, giving Willow a quick kiss on the nose. "Now turn around - and no peeking."
"Okay," Willow said long-sufferingly.
"Promise?" Tara asked. Willow met her stare.
"Promise," she replied.
Tara recognised her sincerity, and turned without a second thought, sure she'd get to surprise her Willow. She sat on the deck and opened the tube containing her costume - the moment she pressed the release switch the tube split open down its middle seam, and material burst out of it, almost seeming to inflate. Tara had only a vague idea of the technology involved - something about the material remaining compressed within the tube's electrical field, and expanding once it was released, but when she had sought an explanation Anya had been distracted by something fluorescent purple and vaguely phallic, and Tara had thought better than to ask.
Whatever it was, it worked beautifully - her outfit barely even had a fold line on it, and even the boots had somehow been fitted in. Tara pulled on the long-sleeved top first, adjusting the clinging fabric to make sure the emblem on her chest was positioned just right. Then the skirt and belt, the boots, which were a tight fit around her shins. Then the cape, and finally she took out a miniature aerosol bottle and sprayed her hair thoroughly, the spray reacting with the compound she had carefully applied that morning to turn her dark honey-gold hair a brilliant sunflower-yellow.
"Ready?" she asked without turning around.
"Just a minute," Willow answered. "Man these feel weird... there we go. Okay, let's see y- wow!"
Tara turned, and her jaw dropped at the sight of Willow in a tight green top, very short shorts, and with her now-brunette hair in a brain that swished around her waist.
"Willow Rosenberg, Tomb Raider," Tara grinned.
"Supergirl!" Willow exclaimed, as much as was possible while keeping her voice down. "Oh god I loved Supergirl when I was a kid." Tara grinned and did a little twirl, her cape billowing around her.
"Well as soon as this mission is over," she promised, "you can love Supergirl again... you look hot, sweetie."
"Really?" Willow blushed, playing with her ponytail, "well, you know, I love my Playstation, so me and Lara, we go way back..."
"I'm glad to make her acquaintance then," Tara chuckled. She peered at Willow, and frowned in thought, staring at her breasts. "It's not just the outfit, is it?" she asked. "You're... bigger..."
"Anya's smokescreen bra," Willow explained, "I thought, well, its in character, I'm not exactly Croft-y around the bust normally..." She trailed off with a shrug.
"Maybe not," Tara said, "but it's true what they say, size isn't everything." Willow beamed a smile at her.
"Now come on, Miss Croft," Tara extended her arm, "we have a ball to attend."
"Who am I to refuse a date with the Woman of Steel?" Willow grinned, looping her arm through Tara's.
Long Beach, California
The grand ballroom was decorated sumptuously, full of silk streamers, sparkling chandeliers, pyramids of champagne glasses, disco balls, extravagant floral decorations, tables laden with the finest in connoisseur finger food... if it hadn't all been so tremendously expensive, it would have seemed thoroughly overdone. The guests were dressed to match, a dazzling array of costumes, Romeos and Juliets, Prince Charmings and Sleeping Beauties, Madonnas (religious and pop star), Kings and Queens, silver screen idols and romance novel characters, rock stars and beauty queens. At one of the heavily-laden dining tables a Zorro was charming a young Ripley, on the dance floor a crowd had gathered to admire the style of Lady Galadriel and the Fonz, and by the main entrance a gaggle of Britney Spearsses were arguing heatedly over who had stolen whose costume idea.
"Quite the gathering," Tara noted, keeping Willow's hand in hers as they navigated the crowded ballroom.
"Yeah, but low on originality," Willow complained. "That's the eighth Seven of Nine I've seen already. Heh," she chuckled to herself, "eighth Seven of Nine..."
"I don't see Osbourne anywhere," Tara noted.
"Me neither," Willow agreed, "but I do see a few faces that stick out from the crowd... over there, two o'clock."
Tara looked to see a portly man, unfortunately dressed in a Han Solo costume that didn't flatter his figure much, hovering by the canapés and ignoring his fellow attendees.
"Howard Walker," Willow said, "chairman of the Citizens for Sanitised Literature society. Not the kind of guy I'd expect to attend a party like this."
"No," Tara said thoughtfully, "or the chief financial officer of the Family First Network, over there." She grimaced. "They leave the part about 'so long as your family has a heterosexual mother and father who raise their children to believe that single parents shouldn't have rights' in the fine print."
"Charming," Willow frowned. "Five o'clock, CEO of Badger News, 'fair and balanced' so long as you're a member of the ultra-right wing... they must be here to meet Osbourne, there's no other explanation. People like that just would not attend a party with a reputation like this one just for fun."
"But where is he?" Willow wondered. "And how come they're just standing around?"
"Maybe he's not here yet," Tara theorised, "or maybe they're waiting for other guests... let's join the party and keep an eye out for Osbourne."
"Right," Willow nodded. "What kind of partying..." She trailed off as the music switched to an imperious, rhythmic beat. Tara gave a slow grin, then looked at Willow, her eyes smouldering.
"Want to?" she asked.
"God yes," Willow replied hoarsely, snatching a thornless rose from a floral display. They walked quickly to the dance floor, where a flurry of couples were gathering for the start of the dance.
"Ready?" Tara asked. Willow held the rose between Tara's teeth, and she clamped down on its stem.
"Tango me baby," she replied.