Chapter 34

A few weeks had passed since the night of the 'braless fluke,' as they'd dubbed it, forcing the girls to take a serious look at where their relationship was headed. Especially after one particularly amorous afternoon together and almost getting caught by Tara's Mom.

Jen had come home in the middle of the day to retrieve some forgotten files, which happen to coincide with Chelsea's naptime. Had Jen not announced herself when she came through the front door, she would have found more than her files on the kitchen counter.

After that, they decided to restrict their touching to safe zones, until the right time presented itself. They both agreed that when it did happen, it shouldn't be in the backseat of Tara's car during school lunch or a kitchen counter. As it turned out, however, keeping their hands to themselves wasn't as hard as they'd imagined it would be. Thanks to a very precocious and energetic infant.

Chelsea was running them ragged, especially Willow. Most days, it was all she could do to keep her entertained and out of trouble until Tara got home. Chelsea was crawling at lightening speed and dead set on exploring every inch on the house. She frequently cast her toys aside for more interesting fare, such as the contents of a kitchen cabinet or more specifically, Willow's backpack.

One late afternoon, Tara arrived home to find her daughter naked in the kitchen sink and Willow looking like a drowned rat while frantically trying to scrub the baby clean of numerous markings on her body…from a familiar set of different colored pens.

The start of the Thanksgiving holiday was a week away and both girls were looking forward to the break. Willow was still working part time at the Doublemeat and Tara was still cheering. When the girls did get down time, it seemed like all they did was study or sleep. Their schedules were packed and the lack of together time was starting to take its toll and causing a mild tension between the two. Even Buffy noticed, offering to babysit so they could have a night out. As nice as that sounded, Willow was reluctant and voiced her concerns to a weary Tara. Tara knew it was her decision to make, but she also knew Willow; the girl would be a nervous wreck if she agreed.

Willow's protectiveness of Chelsea was endearing, but Tara needed a night out and some one-on-one time with her girlfriend. Finally, in the end, they reached a compromise. Buffy and her sister Dawn, would babysit at their house while their Mom was home, in case anything was to happen. Willow's mind was finally at ease and Tara was excited about their impending date night. She'd even agreed to let Willow plan the entire night out. The truth was, she didn't really care what they did, as long as they did it together.

Smiling happily and thinking about their upcoming date, Tara plopped down on the floor of the Sunnydale High School gymnasium and began to rummage through her gym bag. They had a short break before the cheer squad was to perform for the crowd during halftime at the boy's varsity basketball game and she wanted to check in with Willow.

Having found her cell, she began sifting through her text messages and giggled at some of the goofy pictures Willow had sent of Chelsea, in a cabinet using a plastic colander for a hat. She was busy texting back when Buffy dropped unceremoniously to the floor next to her and expelled a disgruntled sigh.

"What's up Buff?" Tara asked as she took a swig from her water bottle.

"Ford's ignoring me," The petite blonde pouted and crossed her arms defensively across her chest.

"He's the captain of the Basketball team, he can't stop in the middle of the game to wave at you."

"Well, then he needs to learn how to multi task."

Tara laughed and shook her head, changing the subject. "So, are we still on for tomorrow night?"

"What's going on tomorrow night?" Harmony asked, taking a seat next to Buffy. "You two going on a date or something?"

Tara stiffened instantly at Harmony's snide comment and then cringed when she saw that Cordelia was joining them as well.

"Who's going on a date?" The brunette asked.

"Apparently Buffy and Tara…together." Harmony giggled.

"Oooh, where are you going? To the Isle of Lesbos?" Cordelia teased.

Tara's cheeks turned bright red. "Were not-"

"Actually, I'm babysitting tomorrow night so Tara can go out on a…um, so Tara can get some stuff done…I mean." Now it was Buffy's turn to cringe at her obvious slip; immediately shooting Tara an apologetic glance.

"Well, well, someone's got a hot date they're not telling us about. In fact, you've been very secretive lately." Cordelia said as she turned towards Tara.

"I haven't been secretive, just busy with school and Chelsea-"

"Oh right," Cordelia interrupted sarcastically. "When is your mother going to stop treating you like hired help and actually hire some help?"

"Cordy, You don't understand, it's c-complicated." Tara replied.

"Oh I understand perfectly, besides, I thought your little dork friend was watching her now?"

Logically, Tara knew that last comment was said for purely reactionary purposes and she tried her best to ignore it, but her mouth and her brain apparently were not in sync. "What the hell is your problem Cordelia?" Tara blurted out as she slammed her water bottle on the gymnasium floor.

Cordelia was caught off guard and shocked by the apparent challenge. "Excuse me?!"

Tara sat up straighter, keeping eye contact with the girl. "You heard me." Crodelia didn't reply, so Tara continued. "I'm serious. What did she ever do to you? I bet you've never even said her name before, have you?"

Buffy and Harmony sat in silence as the tension mounted, their eyes darting back and forth, from one girl to the other as if they were spectators at Wimbledon.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Cordy's eyes narrowed, "You'd better watch yourself Tara Maclay, you're treading on thin ice."

Tara looked down at the floor smugly and then back up at her rival; knowing she'd pushed all the right buttons. "Looks to me like I'm on solid ground."

By this time, they'd garnered the attention of the entire squad and Cordelia's face was beet red with anger. She was clearly shocked by Tara's behavior. "You want to know what the dork did…she exists. That's the only reason I'll ever need and now, you just made it even harder for her." Cordy stood, in an attempt to intimidate the blonde.

Tara was livid and also jumped up; facing Cordelia head on. "I'm warning you Cordelia-"

"Stop it!" Buffy hissed, stepping between the two girls before they came to blows. "Do you really want to do this in front of the entire school?"

Tara glanced at Buffy for a brief second, before finishing what she had to say. "Her name is Willow, not nerd or loser or dork…it's WILLOW. You remember that, because if anything happens to her-"

Buffy interrupted once again. "That's enough, you two need to get it together. We're on in like, two minutes!"

Both Tara and Cordelia took a step back, which was enough for Buffy who moved to collect her pom-poms, leaving a space between the verbally sparring cheerleaders. Tara, however, couldn't let it go and took two steps forward; leaning in close to her adversary. "I'm serious Cordelia, leave her alone or you will regret it." Tara hissed. Nobody messes with my girl.

Just as Cordelia started to respond, the squad was announced over the PA. Cordelia stared menacingly at Tara, then roughly push past her; knocking into the blonde's shoulder as she marched on to the center of the court.

"Do you really think it was a good idea to threaten Cordy in front of the entire squad?" Buffy whispered heatedly to Tara.

"I'm sick and tired of her bullshit Buffy and it's about time someone stood up to her."

Buffy sighed, "I know but-"

"No! I. Am. Done." Tara said through gritted teeth, glaring at Buffy with icy blue eyes. Apparently, the issue was not up for discussion.

Tara put her phone and water bottle away before grabbing her pom-poms and joining the rest of the squad on the court. They performed their routine flawlessly, but the undercurrent of tension was thick and uncomfortable for everyone. Tara and Cordelia kept their distance for the rest of the night and as soon as the game ended, they both quickly disappeared.

Willow was pacing the living room, nervously wringing her hands and gesturing wildly when she spoke. "This is not good Tara…not good at all."

"What was I supposed to do, just ignore what she said and let it go?" Tara replied, slightly annoyed.

"Yes! Taunting her just adds fuel the fire. What the hell were you thinking?!" Willow practically yelled; throwing her arms in the air for effect.

When Willow's hands came down and slapped her thighs loudly, Tara jumped. She was stunned by Willow's reaction. Tara assumed Willow would be on her side and happy she'd finally stood up the girl. Instead, she'd made her angry and worst of all…disappointed. She ducked her head and allowed the hair to fall in front of her face.

As soon as the words were out, Willow wanted to take them back. She cringed when she realized how harshly she'd spoken and her face blanched at Tara's reaction.

Willow immediately dropped to her knees in front of her girlfriend. "Oh God…I'm so sorry baby, I-I didn't mean to yell at you." She whispered; raising a hand and gently pushing some hair out of Tara's face.

Tara looked up with tired and teary eyes, "I'm s-sorry too, I'm just s-so s-sick of her crap." Tara reached out and cupped Willow's cheek. "It hurts me w-when she's mean to you, especially when you're n-not there to defend you're self."

Willow leaned into the touch, the stuttering a sure sign that Tara was upset enough. "Thank you…" She whispered, slightly turning her head to kiss Tara's palm…"For standing up for me."

Tara shyly met Willow's eyes. "It's kind of my job. After all, you are my girlfriend and I love you…very much."

Willow's heart raced, she never tired of hearing those words. "I love you too…" She closed the gap and pressed her lips to Tara's. The intensity of their connection was so strong that every touch, every caress and every kiss set Willow's body on fire. Not to mention the fact they'd had very little time together lately.

As soon as Willow leaned forward and their lips made contact, Tara instinctively spread her legs to accommodate the smaller girl kneeling before her and she pulled their bodies together tightly. The deepening kiss became even more heated with the increased friction between them. They'd somehow managed to go from a deep emotional moment to hot and bothered in less than two minutes.

As tongues dueled and bodies pressed close, it was clear that both girls were struggling to keep their promise of taking things slow.

Finally, after quite some time, Tara placed her hands on Willow's shoulders and pushed her back several inches; breaking the kiss with an audible pop.

A surprised Willow opened her eyes; her mind was fuzzy and confused. "Wha…"

"Safe zones…" Tara breathed, red faced and panting.

"I…we stayed in the zones! My hands were on your back and yours were in my hair. What's unsafe about that?" Willow questioned, trying to lean in and steal a few more kisses, only to be met with resistance from the two hands still firmly placed on her shoulders. "Hey…" She whined.

Tara swallowed hard before speaking, desperately trying to get her arousal under control. "Not hands, um…up here," She said, pointing towards her chest. "And um…down there."

"Really?" Willow proudly looked down at her stomach and Tara's center with a coy smile; very much liking the effect she was having on her girlfriend.

"Willow!" Tara exclaimed as she leapt out of the chair. Now it was she who was pacing the floor.

"What'd I do now?"

"Y-You…stop smiling like that!"

Willow pulled herself up and flopped into to the chair that Tara had just vacated. "Now I can't even smile? I don't think I like these new rules very much." She crossed her arms across her chest and fell back in the chair.

Oh God, she's just so damn cute. With that pout and those lips… Tara closed her eyes tightly and shook her head in an attempt to rid mind of naughty thoughts.

"I'm sorry Will, it's just…hard. You're uh, kind of irresistible." She said, quirking her mouth in a lopsided smile.

Willow returned the smile, pushing up off the chair and taking Tara's hands in hers. She looked up and silently spoke to Tara with wide puppy dog eyes. The blonde giggled; pulling Willow closer and wrapping her arms around her neck.

"Are you staying over tonight?" Tara whispered in Willow's ear as she snuggled closer.

Willow sighed as they slowly swayed back and forth, still wrapped up in a tight embrace "I can't, I have to work early tomorrow."

Probably for the best, otherwise... Tara nodded; pulling back and leaning their foreheads together. "I'll miss you, but no sneaking out. You need your rest, plus I don't want you getting caught."

Willow giggled, "I'm way too stealthy to get caught. Besides, you're worth it." Still grinning, Willow leaned in and kissed Tara gently on the lips. "I need to get going, but I'll call before I go to sleep, okay?"

"Okay Love, see you tomorrow."