"Ripeness is all."
(William Shakespeare, King Lear V.ii. 9-11)
"Amy! Come out, it's okay!" Willow coaxed, a deep purple duvet covering her neck.
Strolling into the dorm room with an armful of books, Tara smiled at the sight of her girlfriend's butt protruding from under the bed. "What are you doing?"
Willow sat back up, hair mussed. "Chasing Amy."
Tara laughed, noticing the open cage. "I see."
"Can you hold Kitty?"
"Sure." She scooped up Miss Kitty Fantastico, who vainly tried to wriggle out of her owner's grasp to resume hunting mode. "You can't eat Amy," Tara scolded, touching Kitty's nose.
"I was feeding her and Kitty scared her," Willow explained, head disappearing under the bed again. "C'mon Amy. Tara's got Kitty now. Please come out?"
"Shhh," Tara quieted the squirming cat in her arms. She looked around the room and noticed the full cauldron. "You were doing a spell?"
"There ya go," Willow soothed the beady-eyed rat in her hands and returned it to its cage. "Whew. That was a close one."
Tara let go of Kitty and reassured the rat, "Don't worry, Amy, you'll be a real girl again soon. Willow and I have almost everything in place."
"Almost. We're still waitin' on that feather of a Dodo bird." Willow lifted her brow and walked over to the altar. "But in the meantime..."
"What're you working on?"
"You know Sarah, down the hall?" Her voice lowered to a whisper. "Sex spell."
Tara giggled. "Her? You're kidding."
"Believe it or not." She stifled a chuckle. "She wants to 'loosen up with the boyfriend'."
"Um, can't that be dangerous?"
"No way. I've got just the right wording to keep it specific. And I'll give her instructions, so there won't be any overdosage. Besides," Willow reasoned, "loose for her is probably just breathing every once in a while."
She threw the last dash of powdery herb into the mix, and chanted steadily with a feather in hand, placing it atop the cauldron. A glittering pink light swirled in the air and dispersed, revealing two ripe, fuzzy peaches.
"Voila!" Willow said, holding up the fruits. "Magically delicious!"
"Why are there two?"
Willow shrugged. "I don't know, I was thinkin' maybe we could try it."
"Are you saying we need it?"
"No! Of course not. It might be fun, is all. Lose all inhibition with the one you love... Hm?"
"Vixen." Tara smiled. "Well, we can't do it now. We have to go to Dawn's party tonight."
"After?" Willow asked, and leaned in. "We could even go to a seedy motel."
"After," Tara agreed.
* * *
"I still think it's creepy," Buffy said, peering at the floor. "It's got thumbs."
"It's not an 'it', it's a she," Dawn corrected, pulling the fluffy calico kitten into her arms. "And her name is Pepper."
"Couldn't they have gotten you a normal cat? Without the opposable thumbs?"
"Willow said she's a special kind of breed."
"Of demon," Buffy grumbled, eying it suspiciously.
"Buffy, she was a birthday present from two of your best friends! I somehow doubt they'd give me a possessed kitten."
"I'm not saying they knew, you know how the Hellmouth is..."
"I'm sorry. I guess I just don't like cats." She shuddered. "They give me the heebies."
"I noticed," Dawn said. "Anyway, she's mine now, so you'll have to get used to her."
"Okay, okay." She reached out to pet Pepper, who backed up and hissed. "See? She doesn't like me either."
"Gee. I wonder why." Dawn put the kitten down. "So, is my cake ready?"
"Cake!" Buffy slapped herself on the forehead. "Oh my god, I forgot the cake!"
Dawn looked crestfallen.
"Dawn. I'm kidding! Of course I wouldn't forget." She smiled, then wagged a finger at her sister. "But it's not ready yet, and you're not having a single bite until you blow out the candles."
Dawn pouted. "You're no fun."
* * *
"Where's my favorite fifteen year old?" Xander called out, gift-wrapped presents in hand. Anya trailed in behind him.
"Over here," Dawn said, approaching the couple with a wide smile. "Unless there's another one I don't know about."
"Fifteen! Wow!" Anya cheered, attempting small talk. She slugged Dawn on the shoulder. "How's it feel?"
"Painful," Dawn answered, rubbing her shoulder.
"Oh. Sorry. I meant how does it feel to be a year older?"
"Like I'm still too young to do anything," Dawn replied, shooting a glare at her big sister.
"God, you guys," Buffy said, relieving Xander of his loot, "how many gifts did you get?"
"We got a little carried away at the mall," he confessed. "But anything for my girl!"
Returning Xander's bear hug, the birthday girl asked Buffy, "Can I open them now?"
"Let's wait for Will and Tara," Buffy said. "So we can all 'ooh' and 'aah' together."
"And Spike, right? He's coming too... You told him, right?"
"Uh-huh. He said he'd come."
"He'd better," Dawn said.
"He will," Buffy assured her, and shrugged. "I told him he had to."
"Spike always does whatever Buffy says," Anya noted.
Buffy gave her a look, and was about to retort when she heard knocking at the back door. "Speak of the devil..."
She traipsed through the kitchen and was surprised to see Willow and Tara through the panes of glass. "Hey guys!" She kissed their cheeks as they entered. "What's with the back way in?"
"We brought some foodstuffs," Willow explained. "Thought it was more kitcheny."
"Foodstuffs always welcome." She took the bags of snacks. "Xander and Anya just got here."
"Cake smells good," Tara said.
"I'm the bake-iest," Buffy said. "Did you bring the candles?"
"Got 'em." Willow dug into her backpack. "Here ya go."
"Good, that's everything." Buffy set them down near the icing. "They're in the living room, come on."
Willow tossed her backpack onto the kitchen counter before following Buffy and Tara through the house.
Boyband music chirped from the stereo. "It's a mix CD," Dawn was explaining to Xander. "My friend Michelle made it for me." She spotted Willow and Tara. "Hey!" She jumped up to hug the girls.
"Happy birthday, Dawnie!"
"How's the new kitten?"
Dawn pointed to Anya's lap, the kitten's current location. "I named her Pepper."
"Hello, little furry creature," Anya greeted uncomfortably, then shouted,
"Aah! Xander! Xander! It's... touching me with its sharp claws!"
"She's only kneading," he said, trying to get Pepper to come to him.
"I don't care what it's called," she said, back arched away from the kitten. "Just -- get it off! Off!"
Dawn rushed over and peeled the kitten off of Anya's pantlegs. "Sorry. She doesn't usually do that. She must like you."
"Well I don't like her," Anya groused.
"You and Buffy both."
"It's got thumbs," Buffy said, as if that explained everything.
"Some Maine Coon cats have extra digits," Willow told Buffy. "It's a rare trait."
"I think the thumbs are cute," Tara said. "And she's a sweetheart. She definitely proved her cuteness at the pet store."
"Yeah, she really chose us," Willow reminisced.
"This pet store," Buffy said offhandedly, "not called 'Ethan's' by any chance?"
"Relax, Buffy." Willow smiled. "It was just your run-of-the-mill mall chain."
"Buffy's just a big dummy, yes she is. You're not a demon, are you?" Dawn cooed to Pepper, who quickly jumped out of her arms and pounced back on Anya, mewing repeatedly.
"What? What do you want?!" Anya begged the animal.
"She probably just wants you to pet her."
"Oh," the former demon said, and stiffly flattened her palm on Pepper's head.
"Good cat." In response, the kitten howled and frantically scratched Anya's hand. "Ow!"
"Pepper," Dawn reprimanded. "That's not nice!"
Pepper slinked away, looking supremely annoyed.