"Look, Olivia, your cake is all done baking," Tara observed as she pulled the hot cake from the oven and set it on the stove. "Remember, patty cake-patty cake." Tara demonstrated the hand motions and Olivia responded by banging her hands against her high chair tray and then clapping her hands together.
Tara smiled at the little girl. "Good job, baby. I can't believe you're already one year old." Crossing the room, Tara took Olivia's face into her hands and kissed the top of her head. "It seems like you were learning to roll over yesterday." Tara could feel her eyes misting up sentimentally. Olivia, however, did not realize the momentous occasion of the day and instead grab a toy off the tray and waved it around, nearly hitting Tara in the eye.
Moving aside, Tara laughed gently. "Be careful. Mama doesn't need a black eye at your birthday party." And then she felt herself getting watery yet again. It was going to be a very tearful day for her at this rate. "Olivia, I'm so so happy that I'm your mama."
Suddenly there was a clatter from the other side of the kitchen and Tara turned quickly, heart pounding in a typical Sunnydale resident reaction, only to see Dawn bent over the pile of dirty dishes that she had upset in the sink.
"I'm sorry, I'm interrupting, I know," Dawn exclaimed. "Two seconds and I'm gone. I was just bringing in the plates from the living room."
"Dawnie, you don't have to leave," Tara responded, concerned. Dawn had been acting very jumpy around her for the past several days, and Tara hadn't quite figured it out.
"You're having a moment with your daughter. I don't want to be in the way," Dawn explained.
That was enough to make it click for Tara and she had to bite back a sigh. Poor Dawnie could be so insecure in the love that everyone had for her, though it was obvious why. Tara had felt the same way for a time after the death of her mother, and Dawn had had to deal with the temporary loss of her sister on top of that.
"Dawn, you're never in my way. Please don't leave the room every time you see me with Olivia; you never did that before." The last week had been such a whirlwind that Tara hadn't stopped to notice the impact it had on Dawn and now she felt flooded with guilt.
"She wasn't your daughter then," Dawn said quietly, letting her hair fall over her face.
Tara stepped over to where Dawn was to gently lift the hair from her eyes. "She was still my daughter. Do you really think I loved her any less before I knew?"
Dawn shook her head slowly. "You've always loved her like she was yours."
Tara smiled. "See? Nothing's changed."
Dawn smiled a little in return. "I guess."
"And Dawnie, you should know it's the same for you. Being related by blood couldn't change how much I love you. I will always love you." Tara pulled the gangly teenager into her arms for a hug to express her sincerity. "Now, do you want to help me get the birthday girl ready for company? I'll let you pick out her outfit."
Dawn grinned and went to get Olivia out of her high chair. "Oh yes! She has to look like a princess on her birthday!"
Willow stood on her front porch waiting for Xander and Anya to come and pick her up. She fiddled with the ribbon on her present wrapped in Snoopy paper, hoping that it would be good enough. As Olivia's mother who had nearly forgotten her birthday, she should have come up with more of a "wow" present, but instead had picked out some books and a plush dog. Olivia certainly wouldn't be fazed; Willow worried about whether it would be good enough in Tara's eyes.
Xander pulled into the driveway before Willow had much more time to worry and as she climbed into the backseat her eyes were immediately drawn to the giant box wrapped in pink paper sitting beside her.
"What is that?!" Willow exclaimed.
"At occasions such as these, it is customary to bring a gift. I see that you have brought one as well," Anya responded.
"Yes, Anya, I understand human customs," Willow responded, annoyance creeping into her tone. "But what is it?"
"That would ruin the surprise!"
"Anh, the surprise is for Olivia," Xander cut in. "It's one of those little cars, the yellow and red ones. Remember you had one, Will, and four year old me was so jealous."
"You got her a car!?" Willow cried. "I got her some books and you guys got her a car?"
"It's not a real car," Anya clarified. "Those cost thousands of dollars. This is just plastic and the savvy consumer can purchase it online for under fifty hard-earned dollars."
"Still…" Willow muttered under her breath and she continued to fret about her parental inadequacies the rest of the way to Buffy's house.
She had less time to worry once they arrived and were greeted by an unexpected guest.
"'llo, love. I hear your bird's the mother of that pretty baby."
"Spike," Willow greeted shortly. "Haven't seen you around lately."
"Yeah, well, I've had business," he responded.
Willow snorted, but before she could reply Tara came out of the kitchen and dropped Olivia into Willow's arms. "Spike has been out of the country, but Buffy invited him for our dinner tonight," Tara explained sweetly. Willow saw right through the attempt to diffuse the situation, but was willing to indulge Tara.
Bouncing Olivia in her arms, Willow admired the frilly little dress she was wearing. It wasn't exactly her taste, and likely not Tara's either, but Olivia was adorable in anything. "Are you excited about your birthday, Liv? You're one now!"
Olivia grabbed a handful of Willow's hair and squealed.
Tara had dinner ready for all of them shortly and they all sat around the dining room table, with Olivia at the head of the table in her high chair. To Willow's surprise, Spike did not cause any problems. He was relatively quiet, just sipping out of his covered mug and taking side-long glances at Buffy. There was certainly more of a story to his disappearance and sudden reemergence, but Willow probably wouldn't hear about it until she mended her friendship with Buffy.
"Time for cake!" Tara announced once their dishes had been cleared. "Buffy, can you help me carry the plates?"
They went into the kitchen and came out a minute later, Tara carrying a beautifully frosted cake that hosted a single, burning candle and Buffy following with a stake of plates and a cake knife.
Everyone sang and Olivia looked on with wide eyes as Tara held the cake in front of her, keeping the twinkling candle just out of reach.
"Wait!" Dawn cried once they finished singing and before Tara could put down the cake. "Picture! Smile, Olivia. You too, Tara."
"Willow, get in here," Tara offered.
Willow hesitated for a moment before Buffy prodded her and she jumped out of her seat to stand on the other side of the guest of honor for the picture.
"Got it!" Dawn announced. "Let's eat!"
Willow sat back down in her chair to watch as Olivia started shoving cake into her mouth with both hands. Soon Tara served Willow her own slice and she took a big bite.
"Yum! Did you make this, Tare?" Willow asked.
"She spent all day on it," Buffy answered.
"It is splendid, my dear," Giles commented.
Tara gave the most adorable, modest smile and Willow felt her heart melt. What she would give to be able to wrap her arms around her baby's mother and tell her how amazing she was. Gaining back Tara's trust was a must.
Seeing everyone enjoying her cake made Tara feel much more relaxed. She had been stressed about the dinner going well, even though it was only their usual group plus Spike. Olivia certainly wasn't going to remember if the food was good on her first birthday. It was still nice to have a success.
When everyone finished eating, Tara sent them to the living room while she stripped her sticky baby down to her diaper and wiped most of the frosting out of her hair.
"Let's get you cleaned up before you open your presents," she told Olivia, carrying her up to the bathroom for a sponge bath before changing her diaper and putting the baby into yellow pajamas.
Once they were back downstairs, everyone was excited for Olivia to open the gifts that they had brought. She was a joy to watch, bouncing in excitement and ripping at the paper when prompted. Her favorite present by far was the box from the car Xander and Anya had gotten her and she continued to crawl in and out of it, giggling loudly.
"I should have gotten the little tike a box," Spike commented, reaching into his pocket for his cigarettes.
"Not in the house!" Buffy ordered.
"Yeah, yeah," Spike muttered. "You want to come on the porch with me, blondie?"
Buffy glanced at her watch. "I should patrol, if you want to come."
Tara watched warily as Buffy followed Spike outside. She had no doubt that they would become involved once again, and wasn't sure that it could possibly end well for either of them as long as Spike didn't have a soul.
"It's about time for me to get to bed," Giles commented, standing from his seat. "Happy birthday, little one," he told Olivia, lifting her out of the box briefly to kiss her forehead. "And, Tara, thank you for hosting such a lovely party."
"We should get going too, Xander. We need time for…"
"Yes, we all know, Anya," Tara interrupted. "Thank you so much for coming and for Olivia's car. I'm sure she'll love it."
"Clearly we should have saved our money and just brought the box," Anya observed.
"I'm not joking," Anya insisted.
"Willow, are you coming with us?" Xander asked.
Tara caught Willow's longing glance at Olivia who was once again giggling over her box, and felt obligated to step in. "You're welcome to stay, Will. Buffy will walk you home after patrol."
Willow's face lit up, and Tara couldn't help but smile back. "Go play; I know that you want to see if you fit in the box with her."
Willow giggled. "It's a pretty big box, but not quite Willow-sized."
"You'll have to find out," Tara challenged as she walked Giles, Anya, and Xander to the front door. Once they had left she goaded Dawn into helping her tackle the mess in the kitchen while Willow played with Olivia. Though they could have used another pair of hands, the giggles of the two redheads prevented Tara from even considering asking for Willow's help. She wanted Willow to be comfortable with Olivia and the two simply needed more time together.
Dawn conveniently had to make a "super-duper important, homework-related phone call" just before the cleanup was complete. Tara knew she just wanted to call Janice to gossip about boys and the like, but she let Dawn go and finished the last of the dishes herself.
When she went back into the living room, she found Willow leaning against the couch with a sleeping Olivia against her shoulder.
"She just passed out," Willow explained in a soft voice. "I'm sorry. I know you still have to feed her."
"It's ok." Tara crossed the room and knelt beside Willow, gently laying her hand against Olivia's cheek. "She had an exhausting evening. Do you want to carry her up and help me get her ready for bed? You're stuck here until Buffy gets back anyways."
Willow smiled and shifted to stand. "I would love to."
AN: Sorry! I know it's been forever. I'll try to be faster but things have been BUSY lately. Hope you enjoyed this update. Please review and let me know what you think!