Disclaimer: All characters are property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse http://mysticmuse.net
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Feedback: Yes please!
Author's Note: Set in 1943, Sunnydale, CA. A leak is discovered within a top secret program during World War II, and suspicion falls on a young code analyst. Suspense and romance ensue (I hope).
Notes: This story has a historical setting, and I tried to use as much real information as I could without doing loads of research. So while there was a VENONA program and many branches of military and government intelligence, I have no idea how internal investigations are carried out, etc. Basically I was going for atmosphere rather than accuracy. This story does take place in Sunnydale (because hey, why not?), but it is totally AU. No Slayer, no monsters, no magic, etc. Chock full o' familiar faces, however. Enjoy!
Webhost's Note: Special thanks goes to Chris Cook of Through the Looking Glass, MKF and Artemis for the graphics and source coding. Thanks, Chris!
Summary: A novice Military Intelligence Agent is assigned the job of confirming or denying the charge.
"Send in Agent Finn."
At the sound of the intercom, Riley Finn stood up from his perch on the corner of the desk, smiled at that desk's blond occupant, and straightened his tie. Knocking once on the door marked Commander Travers, he turned the knob and stepped inside.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Have a seat, Agent Finn," Travers responded, but made no move to look up from the open file on his desk.
"Thank you sir," Riley replied, as he eased his large frame into one of two leather wing chairs facing the desk. As his new boss made no further acknowledgment of his presence, Finn found himself taking in the room's décor. The furnishings were hardly ostentatious, but they were certainly not standard Government Issue, either. The oak desk, leather chairs, oriental rugs, and brass umbrella rack stood in marked contrast to the gray concrete walls, unadorned save for a picture of President Roosevelt, perfectly centered behind the desk.
Riley's eyes settled on his new boss, still focused on the paperwork in front of him. Quentin Travers, like his office, was a study in contrasts. His gray tweed suit was impeccable, his collar starched, his tie and cuffs held neatly in place with matching gold tie tack and cuff links. Travers had an air of elegance around him, but from their previous, brief meeting, Finn had found him to be direct and unpretentious. The office suited him, Riley mused. Functional, but with class.
His observations were interrupted when he noticed that Travers had stopped reading and was now looking directly at Finn, with a barely discernible bemused smile on his face. Immediately flustered, Riley reached for his briefcase.
"I took the liberty of preparing a summary of current operations, along with expense repo –” he began, but was cut off with a raised hand.
"That won't be necessary at this time, Agent Finn," Travers said. "You may leave your report, but we have a more pressing issue at the moment. There's a potentially serious situation that we need to move on immediately."
Finn sat forward in his chair to offer his complete attention. He was secretly relieved that the meeting was not to be one of pleasantries and administrative matters. He saw himself as a man of action first and foremost, and while he did not shrink from the more mundane aspects of his position, he did not actively enjoy them, either. Travers' willingness to skip the chit-chat enhanced Riley's opinion of him further.
Travers' gaze returned to the file on his desk as he began to brief Finn on their assignment.
"Military Intelligence has learned of a leak within the code analysis program. They have intercepted messages that implicate two operatives, referred to only as The Brit and The Rose. The Brit is believed to have already established ties with the Soviet Intelligence community. MI believes that the Rose is someone on the inside of the VENONA project, and that she's supplying the Brit with information."
"VENONA sir?" Riley frowned. "I'm not familiar with-"
"No reason you should be," Travers snapped. "Let's just say that while we may be allied with the Russians right now out of necessity, we don't trust them. And we'd like to know what the Soviet plans are when this damned war is over."
"And VENONA is serving that end?"
"Precisely. Army Intelligence has given us some information, but not much. They have no solid leads as to the identity of the Brit, but they did name a suspect for the Rose. According to them she was a promising cryptanalyst who helped get VENONA off the ground. But several months ago she resigned without much of an explanation. Once the intercepted messages were translated, she became the primary suspect, but their investigations have found nothing conclusive. They cannot confirm her involvement, but they haven't been able to rule it out, either"
"So they hand it over to us," Finn concluded.
"Exactly. And it comes to my office because our suspect is right here in Sunnydale. Your orders are simple: confirm whether or not the suspect is the Rose, and identify the Brit, if possible."
Finn furrowed his brow in concentration for a moment.
"All of my men are currently in the field, but I can do some shuffling and reassign –” he trailed off as Travers' hand again came up.
"I believe you have a new operative who isn't in the field?" Travers asked with a raised eyebrow.
"With all due respect, Commander, considering the seriousness of this case, I'm not sure that she's the right man – er, agent – for the job."
Travers looked intently at Finn, whose own gaze faltered.
"According to her file she has an exemplary record, even if it is a bit short."
"It's not her record I'm concerned about, sir," Finn stated, "it's her manner – something bothers me."
Travers again raised an eyebrow, and tried to suppress a grin. Finn, he knew, had been an excellent soldier, and was becoming an equally impressive agent, but he was still a young man. He had not yet learned to mask his emotions.
"What is it then, Agent Finn? Did she turn down the introductory dinner and drinks?"
Finn's eyes shot up, then dropped again quickly, and Travers could see the young agent's jaw clenching.
"Turned me down flat, sir," Finn admitted, furious with himself for being so transparent. He didn't know whether that was more or less embarrassing than the rejection by the pretty new agent. Finn had a reputation as a nice guy – a good buddy for the guys, and a good catch for the ladies. When the new girl had cut him off with a 'no thank you, Agent Finn, I don't date colleagues – why don't you try the steno pool' he'd been entirely at a loss. The fact that his new boss wanted to reward her with a plum assignment felt like a slap to the other cheek.
"Well, I guess the young lady has good sense as well as a good record," Travers stated amiably. "Get over it, Finn. You're an asset to this department, with a promising future. When your agents succeed it reflects well on you…and on me, of course. Besides, I insist."
"It's your call, sir," Finn replied. 'And my ass if she screws up,' he thought to himself.
"Excellent, then we're agreed."
Travers leaned forward and reached across his desk to depress the intercom.
"Miss Summers, would you please send in Agent Maclay."
Tara Maclay sat in her small apartment, mulling over the events of the previous day. When she'd been summoned to Commander Travers' office and had seen Riley Finn waiting too, she'd been worried. Finn had completely ignored her presence, however, having been too busy flirting with Travers' secretary. After he'd disappeared into the office, Tara had been able to hear muted voices, but had made no attempt to listen in on the conversation. Twenty minutes or so later she'd been called in as well, and had noticed with some trepidation that Finn did not appear to be leaving.
Tara had sunk into the unoccupied chair and steeled herself for the anticipated lecture on proper respect for one's boss and being a team player. She'd known that she had been abrupt with Agent Finn – bordering on rude – but in her experience she'd found it the easiest way to avoid repeated attempts.
Tara absent-mindedly stirred her tea and grinned at the recollection of Finn's expression when she'd turned him down. It was obviously not something he was used to. She could even understand why. Riley was tall, athletic, handsome in a somewhat bland, unassuming way, and he had an easy-going manner and a nice smile. She had noticed the way Travers' secretary had practically swooned when graced with that smile.
Tara's grin turned into a full-blown smirk at the realization that Finn would never fathom the reason why she was immune to his charms. The smile quickly faded, however, as the thought of what could happen if he – or any of her superiors – found out about her.
But there had been no lecture.
Tara let out a sigh as she turned her thoughts to her assignment. She had been extremely surprised when Travers had given it to her, as had Finn, from the look on his face. She knew she was only in the department because of Travers, and she was determined to prove her worth on this case.
Several hours had been spent poring over the information passed on by Army Intelligence. Riley had oh-so-helpfully suggested that her cover job should be as a civilian employee of the Army steno pool. Travers had accepted the idea at face value, and Tara had been too embarrassed to object. Thankfully she would not have to actually do the job, but if necessary there was now a desk with her name on it in the Special Information Branch office.
Once dismissed, Tara had gone home to read over the file in more depth. Travers had informed her that surveillance on the suspect indicated that she was renting out a room in her house. A quick phone call and Agent Maclay had an appointment to see the apartment the next day.
Tara frowned into her now empty teacup. She'd been surprised by the other woman's voice yesterday. It was so open – not at all what Tara would expect of a Russian spy, no matter how experienced. The suspect had sounded exuberant, almost giddy, and kind of babbly.
Tara smiled as she picked up the directions she'd scribbled down. She didn't need them – it was all in the file – but she could hardly refuse them when offered. Grabbing her purse and locking her apartment, she walked out to her car.
Fifteen minutes later she parked on the street in front of a small red brick bungalow. Pausing outside the car, Tara looked up at the house. She caught a brief flash of red in the front window before the curtain fell back into place. She made her way up the walk and onto the small front porch, glancing at her watch, which read 10:00 a.m. – right on time. Taking one last deep, steadying breath, she knocked on the door.
A startled "oh!" escaped Tara's lips as the door was flung open almost immediately. While trying to regain her composure, she stared at the young woman standing in the doorway. She was around Tara's age, and about the same height. Her short red hair was loosely curled, perfectly framing a face that had the biggest green eyes Tara had ever seen.
Tara stood like a statue on the porch, lost in those eyes. She was only vaguely aware that the woman was speaking when she heard her own name, followed by "Willow Rosenberg."
Tara swallowed hard. She'd seemingly lost the ability to form rational thought, until one painfully clear one popped into her head:
'Oh Goddess. This could be a problem.'
Willow Rosenberg wandered aimlessly around her living room, pausing now and then to straighten a picture or move a stray object an inch or two to the right or left. Sometimes both. Her nervous energy had made it easy to tidy up the small house, but now that it was done, she didn't know what to do with herself.
So she paced. Several trips around the living room, down the hall, into the kitchen, back down the hall, past the bedrooms. She stuck her head into the spare room for the sixteenth or seventeenth time that morning. Frowning, she walked into the middle of the room and stood with her hands on her hips.
I wonder if she'll like it?…it's not a bad room…it's roomy…it's a roomy-room…heh, that's funny…maybe I should have removed that old desk…what was I thinking?…it looks like a dorm room…and has that wallpaper always been this ugly?…it's so old ladyish…it looks like an old lady dorm room…oh! – what if she's an old lady?…not that that's a bad thing to be…I'd like to be one myself someday…she didn't sound old, but…
Willow's brow furrowed and her internal babble-ogue came to an abrupt halt as she recalled the phone conversation the previous day
She didn't sound old. She sounded about my age, in fact. She had a nice voice. Yep, definitely nice.
Willow smiled as she walked back to the living room. She checked the clock on the mantle – 9:47. The momentary calm that had descended over the redhead disappeared in an instant.
Thirteen minutes!…she's gonna be here in thirteen minutes!…maybe she'll be late…oh no!…what if she's early?!
Willow raced to the front window and pulled back the curtain. Her eyes darted up and down the quiet street, but she saw nothing out of the ordinary.
Okay, that's good…I still have a few minutes to myself before I have to meet this strange woman who wants to move into my house.
Willow flopped down onto her couch and groaned. When her parents had suggested she rent out the spare room it had seemed like a good idea. She didn't need the money, but Ira and Sheila had implied that she could use the company. Since moving from Washington, D.C. to Sunnydale several months before, she had met few people. When her best friend Xander had been stationed nearby, she'd been able to see him, but then he'd shipped out several weeks ago.
Willow had finally decided to do it out of civic duty. With all of the war industry in Southern California, Sunnydale had attracted a huge number of new residents, and builders were struggling to keep up with demand. When her ad for a housemate had been answered so soon, Willow had not been surprised. But it was only now that the reality of the situation was sinking in.
Some total stranger is going to be living in my house…what if she's a slob?…what if she smokes?…what if she's an ax murderer?…oh my God, she's probably an ax murderer!…this was such a rotten idea…okay, calm down Rosenberg…when she gets here, I'll just…hide!…I can hide!…no, that would cowardly – and rude…hmmm…oh! I know! I'll tell her it's already rented!…no, I can't lie to her…can I?…NO!…wait, I've got it…I'll tell her I changed my mind and that there's no room for anyone who's not me…is that a car?
Willow dashed to the window again and cautiously pulled back the curtain. She saw a dark green sedan pull slowly down the street and come to a stop in front of her house. She watched as the door opened and a dark blonde head emerged.
Oh my God, it's Veronica Lake, flashed through Willow's head as she saw the long wavy hair that fell coquettishly across one side of the woman's face. Willow pushed the curtain aside further in order to get a better view, but just as she did so she saw the blonde's eyes turning towards her.
Willow dropped the curtain and jumped away from the window. She quickly bounced over to the front door and paused, her hand on the knob.
Okay, definitely not an old lady…no siree…and she doesn't look like an ax murderer…what do ax murderers look like anyway…no – bad – don't visualize…too late!
Willow's mental frenzy had her so wound up that at the first soft knock on the door she jerked it open…
…and found herself staring into two extremely startled blue eyes.
Wow, thought the redhead, as she stood in the doorway, eyes widening and a grin forming on her face. Veronica Lake Schmake.
After a moment Willow realized she'd frightened the other woman, who seemed to be frozen in place.
Say something, Rosenberg! Willow's brain shouted at her. Something simple, like 'Hi, I'm Willow Rosenberg. You must be Tara Maclay.' Willow took a deep, steadying breath, smiled, held out her hand, and in a calm, clear voice said:
"Hi! I'm Tara Maclay. You must be Willow Rosenberg."
Willow mentally smacked herself in the forehead.
"I mean, I'm Willow," the redhead stated, "And you must be-"
"Tara Maclay," the blonde finished, as she reached out shake the offered hand, totally unaware of the cause of the other woman's consternation.
The two women continued to gaze at each other intently. After several long moments had passed, each became conscious that they were still holding hands, but neither seemed willing to break the contact. Just as the intensity of the silence was becoming uncomfortable, the shrill bark of a dog down the street broke their reverie.
Tara jumped at the sharp noise, causing her hand to at last drop from Willow's.
"It's nice to m-meet you Miss Rosenberg," Tara said, determined to regain her professional demeanor. She frowned slightly at her stutter. Hmm…haven't done that in a while. Must be big-important-assignment jitters.
"Please call me Willow," the redhead replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. Having noticed the blonde's frown, she added, "don't worry, this really is a quiet street. Lady Macbeth must have spied the postman."
"The dog," Willow clarified. "So, would you like to come in? Cause I suppose you want to see the room, and it's inside…well, I guess that it goes without saying-though here I am saying it-but it's in the house, 'cause who'd want to rent a room that wasn't in a house? That's be like a shack, or a shed, and you don't look like you'd want to live in a shed. So would you?"
Tara looked at the redhead with wonder. If her mind moves as fast as her mouth…oh boy…bad thoughts.
"Would I like to live in a shed?" she asked as seriously as possible.
"Oh! No! Would you like to come in? I didn't mean to- hey! You knew what I meant, didn't you?" Willow accused as Tara's grin threatened to overwhelm her face.
"Yes," Tara laughed, "and I'm sorry for teasing you but your ah, thought process is a little umm, overwhelming."
"That's okay. Actually, I'm surprised you could follow it. Most people just tell me I'm babbling and look at me like I'm nuts."
Willow smiled sheepishly as she ushered the blonde inside. Her panic at having a stranger move into her home completely forgotten, she proceeded to lead Tara on a grand tour of the house.
"Well, I guess grand was a bit of an overstatement," Willow remarked apologetically when five minutes after they had begun they were standing in the spare room. "There's not much to tour. This is the room, though. It comes with the furniture, but if you have your own I can get rid of this stuff. That desk can go if you don't like it. And I'm so sorry about the wallpaper, but it can be painted over. Oh! I meant to put some flowers on the dresser but I forgot. But I can get some."
Willow paused for a breath before adding in a small voice, "that is, if you decide to take it."
Tara stood quietly throughout Willow's appraisal of the room. Of course she would take it – that's why she was there. Infiltrating Willow Rosenberg's home was just the first step of her assignment. Agent Maclay knew how important her work was, but she couldn't help feeling a little conflicted as she approached the successful completion of stage one. Were it just the obvious and immediate physical attraction she'd felt for the redhead, she would have thought nothing of it. It would be uncomfortable, yes, but it would not affect her ability to handle the case. What she had been totally unprepared for was how much she liked Willow. As a person she gave Tara the same impression her voice had: open, exuberant, babbly. Tara knew she could not allow any feelings of affection to cloud her judgment in the investigation. She also knew that the investigation would proceed with or without her. Well aware of how Travers had gone out on a limb for her, Tara was determined to earn that trust, and prove herself to Riley and the rest of the boys' club as well.
"I l-love the desk," Tara began, "and I was hoping it would be furnished. I just moved here and I've been staying in a hotel. The wallpaper…well, I've um, seen worse."
Willow cringed and opened her mouth to protest, but before she could speak Tara continued.
"It actually kind of reminds me of my grandmother's house. I don't m-mind it, really. And um, if it's okay with you, I'll take it."
The redhead had stood nervously waiting as Tara silently took in the room. Unable to read the other woman's expression, Willow had determined that the blonde was trying to figure out how to politely decline. Whereas half an hour earlier she had been convinced that a housemate was the worst idea ever, Willow now found herself inexplicably anxious for Tara to move in. When she heard 'I'll take it,' the redhead bounced over to the other girl and gave her a quick hug.
Tara stiffened at the contact, but Willow had already stepped away and was too lost in her own excitement to notice the blonde's reaction.
"Why don't you have a seat in the living room and I'll make us some tea," Willow's voice called out from halfway down the hall.
Once the tea was prepared and the women were comfortably seated on Willow's couch, they discussed the particulars of the living arrangements. Rent was agreed upon and keys handed over. Tara provided several references despite the redhead's protestations that they were unnecessary. Somewhat nervously, Willow broached the subject of house rules.
"One, no smoking." At Tara's nod she continued. "Two, no um…well errr, no visitors of the uhhh, male type persuasion, you know, umm…overnight."
Tara would have burst out laughing if she hadn't seen the pained expression on Willow's face and the blush creeping up past her ears.
"It's just that, well, the neighbors are kind of nosy, and people talk, and I know it's stupid, 'cause come on people, it's 1943 already, and I don't want you to feel like you're living in a convent, but-"
Tara gently laid a hand on Willow's arm and gave it a light squeeze.
"Willow, it's okay. I understand and you don't have to worry. I promise – no men."
Willow let out a sigh of relief. Quickly changing the subject, she told Tara to feel free to move in any time.
"I'm at school most days until five, but if you need any help after that, I'd be happy to assist."
Tara hastily replied that she had very little to move, and could easily gather it all herself that afternoon. The blonde agent then inquired about Willow's studies.
"I just transferred to UC Sunnydale in the fall as a junior. I did my first two years in D.C., but took a year off to work."
Willow went on at length about the engineering classes she'd taken, the lack of women in the program, and how excited she was about her new college. Tara noticed that the redhead did not elaborate on her work- but it was top secret, of course.
"So you want to be an engineer?"
Willow shifted on the sofa, unwrapping her legs from where they'd been curled underneath her. The redhead stared off into space for a long moment before fixing her gaze at a spot on the floor by her feet.
"Well, uhhh, maybe? I've kind of been…I haven't decided if…it's not that I…" Willow struggled to find the right words before giving up with an exasperated sigh. She sat forward and reached for her teacup, draining it's contents and looking into it as if to see her fortune. "I guess I've just been…heading in another direction lately. It makes me think that I'm meant to do something…different."
Willow stood suddenly and moved to take the tea set into the kitchen. The shift in her demeanor was palpable. Gone was the bubbly energy and chattiness. Despite only having known her for several hours, the sight of Willow agitated and silent disturbed Tara.
"Look, I hate to rush off, but I really have to get to class."
Tara watched Willow's profile intently. She reflected on the fidgeting, the furrowed eyebrows, the carefully chosen words that said little.
She's definitely hiding something, Tara mused, but who isn't?
Willow disappeared into her room, emerging a moment later with a notebook and large textbook tucked under one arm. Tara studied the girl, who seemed so deflated since the subject of her future plans had been addressed.
"You're welcome to stay, but I really have to go."
"Actually, I need to check out of my hotel," Tara lied, "but I can drop you off at school on the way."
"You don't have to," Willow said softly, but made no move towards the front door.
"I know that," Tara replied, "but I'd still like to."
Willow had been avoiding the blonde's gaze, embarrassed by her own sullen behavior. She was just making small talk, trying to be nice, and I go and turn into snippy gal. Turning to look into Tara's eyes, she saw kindness, concern, and maybe a little…sadness? A slight smile graced the blonde's face, and Willow found herself returning it.
"I'd like that too."
Half an hour later Tara walked into Riley Finn's office to report on her progress. Finn reluctantly had to concede the advantage to having a female agent in the present situation. He was impressed with how quickly Agent Maclay had successfully initiated contact. With Phase I complete, he laid out her objectives for Phase II: an exhaustive search of the suspect's house, and extensive surveillance of the suspect herself, particularly focusing on anyone she met with. Finn demanded weekly written progress reports and immediate notification of anything suspicious.
"If she talks to anyone with even the slightest hint of a British accent, I want to know about it. Clear?"
"Yes sir," Agent Maclay responded. Tara relayed her brief conversation with Willow that morning, but refrained from revealing her personal opinions of the redhead or her mood shift. She knew that Finn, as a military man, wanted factual information only, and would most likely dismiss Tara's impressions as 'women's intuition.'
Following the meeting, Tara stopped by her apartment to retrieve the two suitcases she'd packed the night before, several plants, and a bag of groceries. She was back at Willow's house shortly after 2:00 pm, several hours before the redhead was due to be home.
"No time like the present," Tara stated aloud. She walked through the house looking for a promising place to start, and soon found herself standing in Willow's bedroom before a large oak roll-top desk. Bingo.
The top portion of the desk held nothing out of the ordinary. Carefully going through each drawer and cubby, Tara found a wide array of standard office supplies, numerous postcards from Willow's parents, and a small group of letters from two Army privates. The most recent, from Alexander Harris, was postmarked the previous week. The remainder – from Daniel Osbourne – had been sent to Willow at her D.C. address and were between two months and two years old.
Underneath the letters Tara found a small packet of photographs, all featuring Willow with one or two other people. Several showed the redhead with a dark haired boy and a blonde girl, some with just the former. Tara flipped absentmindedly through the photos before pausing over one. It showed a younger Willow with a different boy. Her long hair was pulled up, and both she and the young man stood in formal attire, arms linked, smiling broadly at the camera. The blonde found herself wondering where and when the snapshot had been taken, and for what occasion. A spark of jealousy passed through Tara as she contemplated who the young man might be to Willow, and where he was now. Berating herself silently, she returned the photos and letters to their place and moved on to the drawers on the lower right side of the desk.
The smaller top drawer held textbooks and several notebooks. Perusing the latter briefly, Tara ascertained that they were for school, and made a mental note to look through them more fully later. Underneath the notebooks she found a letter from the UC Sunnydale registrar confirming Willow's classes for the Fall 1943 semester. Monday, Wednesday and Friday the redhead had lectures from 8am until 2pm; Tuesday and Thursday she had only a lab, from 12:30 until 3. Tara frowned, trying to remember Willow's exact words from that morning.
'I have classes til 5 most days,' Tara recalled. Or was it 'I'm at school til 5 most days'? Maybe she spends the extra time in the library, or she could be part of a study group. It's probably nothing. The blonde attempted to rationalize away her sense of unease, but failed miserably.
The large lower drawer was filled with files, each neatly labeled with a course title, instructor name, and year taken. Tara marveled at the fact that they seemed to go back to her high school years. Randomly pulling out several, she noted the small, precise handwriting and the use of different colored pens, seemingly to prioritize the information.
She must have rewritten all of these, Tara realized. Well…that's…quirky, she thought with a bewildered smile as she placed the folders back in the drawer. Or quite possibly insane.
Moving on to the left side, the top drawer contained an ample supply of stationary and envelopes. When she tried the lower left drawer, she found it locked. Tara frowned as she tugged on it again.
Hmmm…not stuck…definitely locked. What's in the drawer Willow? What are you hiding? Agent Maclay knelt down to study the lock, which appeared simple enough. If I'd had the foresight to bring my lock picks, she thought with chagrin. Noticing the time, Tara stood up with a sigh.
It'll just have to wait til tomorrow. One way or another I'm getting into that drawer.
Willow walked through the door at 5:30 and came to an abrupt stop. Following her nose to the kitchen, she was met with the sight of Tara standing at the stove, stirring a large pot of spaghetti. The blonde's hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and as Willow watched unobserved, Tara wiped a bead of sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Willow's eyes widened and she blushed guiltily as Tara bent over to open the oven. The blonde turned to place a loaf of bread on the counter and spied the obviously flustered redhead in the doorway.
"Hi Willow. Dinner's almost ready," she said casually. The agent had heard the key in the lock several minutes before and had waited for Willow to make her presence known. Tara had sensed her entry into the kitchen, and had briefly wondered why the other woman had not spoken. When she heard a sharp intake of breath as she leaned over to open the oven, she understood. Upon turning and seeing Willow's flushed face and wide eyes focused several feet south of Tara's head, it was all but confirmed.
She was checking out my butt, Tara concluded in astonishment.
"You cooked!" Willow squeaked, snapping her gaze and her brain back to attention. Green eyes darted to the bread, the stove, to Tara for a split second, back to the bread, and finally dropped down to the safety of the floor, where they crinkled in confusion.
Oh Willow. You were checking out my butt, and you have no idea what it means.
"You um, shouldn't have – not that I'm not glad you did…and not 'you shouldn't have' like you're not allowed to…but you don't have to feed me…not that I thought you were going to actually, you know feed me…but – oh! Is that real butter?"
Tara was content to let Willow work through her babble in her own time. She was fascinated by the rapid play of emotions over the redhead's face.
Getting her to talk certainly won't be a problem, she realized, but what she'll say…I'm not sure even she knows until it comes spilling out.
Dinner was passed in casual conversation. Willow asked Tara about her work, family, and home. The blonde cringed mentally and tried to sound enthusiastic about being a stenographer. She made vague responses as to her background, not wanting to lie outright if possible, but unwilling to dredge up painful memories. Willow seemed to accept her hesitation, and did not push for more information.
After cleaning up, the two retired to the living room, where Tara read the paper while Willow studied – or pretended to. The blonde was fully aware of the sly sideways glances that were repeatedly directed at her. She couldn't help but be pleased, but also uncomfortably conscious of the futility of the situation. Not to mention that it was making it impossible for Tara to observe the redhead, who at last laid her book down with a groan. Tara looked at her inquisitively.
"This has got to be the most boring subject ever! And that's saying something, believe me. I think there must be a bunch of bitter, horrible people who write this stuff intentionally bad just to torture those of us forced to read it."
"So why are you taking it?" Tara cautiously inquired, hoping that her query wouldn't cause the redhead to close herself off again.
Willow just sighed, however, and looked contemplative as she regarded Tara.
"Honestly? My parents really want me to be an engineer, and I thought I'd like it too…and I did, at first. Now…I don't know."
"You could change majors," Tara suggested, anxious to keep the conversation going.
"I guess. It's hard, though. Everyone expects me to do this, you know? And I don't want to disappoint them, but…well, sometimes I don't want to do what's expected. When I was in high school my friends called me 'Old Reliable.' Isn't that horrible? And I just don't want to be reliable all the time. Maybe I want to do something crazy – shocking even – or downright dangerous," she finished, defiantly jutting out her chin.
"So what's stopping you?" Tara asked with a fair amount of trepidation.
Willow slumped back into the couch and shrugged.
"Oh, you know – fear…lack of direction…fear…respect for social mores – did I mention fear?"
Tara made no response, but felt a wave of relief wash over her at the redhead's words.
Willow stood and stretched, started to comment on the time, but it was swallowed by a wide yawn. Tara too felt the need for sleep overtake her after the day's myriad events. In the hall between their rooms Willow paused and turned to the blonde.
"I'm really glad you're here, Tara," she stated in a soft voice. "I know we just met, but I already feel like we're friends."
Tara stood speechless, forcibly willing herself not to let her emotions overwhelm her. However, this time when the redhead's arms wrapped around her she returned the hug, which did not push the boundaries of appropriate friendly contact.
"Goodnight Tara," Willow said, disappearing into her room.
"'Night, Willow," Tara responded in a low voice.
Tara closed her own door behind her and leaned against it heavily. Thoughts swirled around her head: laughing green eyes, the locked desk drawer, the class schedule, the unguarded look in the kitchen, the feel of Willow's arms around her…
In an instant Tara made the decision to trust her instincts. She would do her job. She would do it so well that she would leave nothing uninvestigated. She would follow every lead to the fullest. And when she was done she knew deep down that she would clear Willow Rosenberg of any suspicion. Tara trusted her gut, and it was telling her one clear thing:
If Willow's a Russian spy, then I'm Eleanor Roosevelt.
Friday morning dawned gloomy, as ominous dark gray clouds rolled in and settled over the city. The air hung heavy with the smell of rain waiting to be let loose. Tara woke slowly, wanting nothing more than to stay under the warmth of her quilt and hibernate the day away. As she drifted into full consciousness, she heard Willow running around the house, banging drawers and cursing.
So much for sleeping in, Tara sighed. Oh well. I have a fake job to pretend to get to and a real one to do.
Tara pulled on a robe and opened the door. A redheaded cyclone whirled by, narrowly missing the blonde as it raced down the hallway, where it came to a sudden halt.
"Oh my God, Tara! I'm so sorry – I didn't hit you did I? I didn't see you…are you okay?"
"Fine, Willow, and fully awake now."
"Did I wake you? What with the stomping and the slamming and the – oh! I don't usually use that kind of language…well, not first thing in the morning, anyway."
"You didn't wake me," Tara assured the frazzled redhead. "And even if you had, I needed to get up. I could have stayed in bed all morning and been late for work."
"Late! I'm late! I have to go – I'll see you tonight – bye!"
Tara had no time to respond as Willow grabbed her keys, swung a heavily-laden canvas bag over her shoulder and bolted out the door.
I wonder if Hurricane Willow strikes every morning, Tara mused with a grin. Where on Earth does she get that much energy?
The blonde's question was answered as she wandered into the kitchen and found a large percolator, almost empty.
At least she left me half a cup's worth.
After hastily tossing back the coffee, showering and dressing, Tara checked the lock on the desk drawer again, then left the house.
Passing through the door to her department's offices, Tara heard the sounds of a heated argument. Just past the administrative desks she spied Riley Finn amidst a small cluster of people: Travers' secretary and several agents. She cautiously advanced towards the group, which had not noticed her presence.
"I don't wanna hear it Graham – I don't like him and that's all there is to it."
Tara felt a moment's relief as she realized Finn wasn't referring to her.
"What the hell have you got against him?" the agent she recognized as Forrest asked.
"He's Navy! Isn't that enough? Mickey's Army – he's the man!"
"Technically, Riley, he's the mouse," Graham countered with a grin.
Finally catching the thread of the conversation, Tara rolled her eyes and turned to her office. Before she reached the door, she heard a female voice wail:
"But Donald's soooo cute!"
Tara quickly found her set of lock picks and grabbed her camera and several rolls of film for good measure. Eager to return to Willow's house, she quietly closed her door and turned towards the hall, only to walk straight into Agent Finn's hulking frame.
"Maclay," he stated coldly.
"S-sir," Tara replied, ducking her head self-consciously and biting her lower lip.
"Shouldn't you be working?" Finn sneered, crossing his arms over his chest and clenching his jaw.
Tara bristled at the tone. Snapping her head up in defiance, she stared Finn dead in the eyes.
"Just stopping by for some equipment. So if you'll excuse me, I have an investigation to continue. And you can get back to the important business of debating the merits of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck – Sir."
Tara turned and walked away, leaving Riley dumbstruck and fuming.
Back at the house, Tara went straight to Willow's desk. After several minutes of work she heard a satisfying click and slowly eased the drawer open.
The agent stared into the empty drawer and blinked several times.
It's empty. And locked. Why would she lock an empty drawer? Tara grasped for an explanation. Maybe it was locked when she got it and there was no key. That would make sense.
Tara closed the drawer and set about re-locking it, far from satisfied with her conclusion. Pushing the thought aside for the time being, she continued her inspection of the rest of the room. By early afternoon she had found nothing unusual save for the largest collection of fuzzy sweaters she had ever seen. The agent moved on to the living room, where she worked steadily until 4:30 but turned up nothing. Quickly changing into appropriate office attire to preserve the illusion of her steno job, she left the house.
Tara watched as Willow entered the house shortly after 5. She waited five minutes then followed, walking onto the porch just as the rain that had held off all day began to fall in torrents.
"Hey, you're home early," the redhead greeted her with a grin. " I saw your car outside – you didn't drive?"
"They, um, let us go early to beat the rain," the blonde improvised. "And I'm trying to bus it as much as possible. You know, gas rationing and all. Speaking of which, how did you manage to acquire so much coffee?" Tara flashed her a lopsided grin and raised an eyebrow. "You're not a secret hoarder, are you Willow?"
"Wha – No! No hoarding! Trade! Mrs. Merkel…next door…no coffee – for her! So we trade – coffee for gas – rations, that is. I gave her my gas coupons for her coffee. Cause drinking gas – blecchhh, and she can't run her car on coffee…but oh! That'd be cool if you could! Or, well, a waste of coffee, but, umm…"
While the half of Willow's brain that controlled her vocal chords was locked into full babble-mode, the other half was wrestling with the intense sensations caused by the devastating look Tara had given the redhead.
My knees…who put jelly in my knees?…is it warm in here?…why is my stomach all flippy?…whoooaa! – my head…fells funny, not ha-ha funny…more like – pass out?…am I passing out?…don't wanna…okay, seriously warm in here…all over – oh my…ALL over…whuh?…how?…Tara-
A loud clap of thunder shook the house, breaking Willow out of both her verbal and mental babbles. The redhead felt shaken as well, but not on account of the storm. She stood transfixed, staring into Tara's eyes as if searching for the answer to a question she did not even know to ask. After a long moment, she became aware that the blonde was no longer smiling, but was looking back at her with an equally intense gaze.
"DINNER," Willow shouted, flinching at the sound of her own voice and startling Tara. Not pausing to gauge the other woman's reaction, she bolted to the kitchen.
Tara, still standing just inside the front door, was left wondering what the hell had just happened. Unlike Willow, she was perfectly aware of what she was feeling and why. Her confusion stemmed from seeing her own desire reflected back in the smoky green eyes. She could have written off the kitchen incident as an innocent peek, but there was no denying the look she'd seen on Willow's face, and it terrified and exhilarated her in equal measure.
Dinner that night was passed in silence, other than the sound of the storm raging outside. Tara offered to do the dishes and received a softly murmured 'thanks' from Willow, who retreated to her room to study. Tara settled herself on the couch to read the paper, but found it impossible to concentrate through the whirlwind of her emotions.
Some time later, Willow emerged, chatting amiably as though nothing had passed between them. For a moment Tara wondered if she had imagined it. The redhead shyly asked if she could listen to the radio.
"It's your house, Willow. You can do whatever you want."
She had not intended any innuendo, but Tara realized her mistake the second the words were out of her mouth. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the redhead stop, hand on the dial, and take a deep breath. When she came and sat next to Tara on the couch, the blonde felt every muscle in her body tense.
"Welcome to Suspense Theater – tonight, Agnes Moorehead in 'Sorry, Wrong Number,' the gripping tale of an invalid who knows a murder is planned, but who are the killers? And who is the victim? But first, a word from our sponsors…"
"Oh! Yay! I love this program," Willow bubbled enthusiastically.
Over the course of the hour, as poor Mrs. Stevenson inched closer to danger, Willow inched closer to Tara. The redhead stared wide-eyed at the radio, lost in the story and totally unaware of her proximity to the blonde. Tara, however, could focus on nothing beyond the other woman moving ever closer to her. Willow unconsciously grabbed Tara's hand as Mrs. Stevenson realized the killer was in her house. As the tension reached it's peak, a flash of lightening and a huge crash of thunder pitched the house into silence and blackness. Willow shrieked once and dove for cover.
Tara could see nothing, but she could feel Willow's head buried in her shoulder and an arm draped over her. Willow's breathing was fast and shallow, while Tara barely dared to breathe at all. Several minutes passed in which neither woman moved. Then Willow lifted her head, ever so slowly. Tara sat still, feeling the redhead's arm where it still lay across her chest, the hand resting lightly on her shoulder. Eyes adjusting to the darkness, she turned her head and was able to just make out the outline of Willow's face, inches from her own. She sensed rather than saw the redhead leaning towards her, green eyes flashing in the dark like a cat's, lips parted slightly. Just as it seemed there could be no space left between them, the lights blazed on and the radio blared out.
Tara leapt off the couch, somehow managed to stammer out a quick 'good night,' and ran to her room.
Willow stood up in a daze, walked slowly around the living room, turning off the radio and the lights, then returned to the couch, where she leaned over, elbows on her knees and head in her hands. She felt tears begin to form and allowed them to fall freely.
Oh, God. What have I done?
Willow attacked a clump of weeds with ferocious determination. Waking early after a restless dream-filled night, she had thrown on a work shirt and a pair of old jeans to clear away the debris from the storm. Her work had led her around to the side of the house, where the Victory garden planted by the previous owner had fallen into a state of decay. Willow had immediately sunk to her knees and proceeded to rip out the tangled mass with her hands. Now, hours later, the redhead was sweaty and disheveled, and her garden was not only weed-free, it was plant-free as well.
So much for doing my patriotic duty, she grumbled silently. It looks like a stray bomb landed in my yard.
Willow pushed herself to her feet, staggering a little as pins and needles shot through her aching muscles. Stiffly walking around to the front porch, she sat down on the steps with a thud.
Tara must be up by now. I can't stay out here all day. Gotta go face the music sometime…hmph – you hear music, you don't see it, so how can you face – okay, not the point. I just need to march right in there and apologize…just say flat out 'hey Tara, I'm really sorry I almost attacked you on the couch last night, but with the storm and the killers and the dark and the…big blue eyes and the oh-so-kissable full lips-' Okay, that could use some work. What the frilly heck am I doing? I should call Anya – she'll tell me what's wrong with me – in detail, possibly with pictures…and a pie chart.
An incredulous expression spread over Willow's face as she sunk her head in her hands, mirroring her posture from the previous evening.
I was gonna kiss her…I wanted to kiss her – and she's a HER – and she so obviously didn't want me to, what with the freaking and the running away. I practically threw myself at her – what must she be thinking? What was I thinking? Was I even thinking at all? She's probably packing right now, and I'll never see her again, and…oh Goddess, I don't want her to go. I want – I have to stop her! I'll apologize, beg her forgiveness – grovel, even. Must make Tara stay!
Willow stood up with resolve, walked boldly through the door, and strode to the dining room table, where Tara sat eating lunch. The blonde kept her head lowered, eyes focused on her meal as the redhead approached. Willow took a deep breath, preparing to make an eloquent plea for Tara to forgive her and stay.
"Are you going to move out?" The unexpectedly high-pitched voice blurted out.
Tara nearly choked on her soup. Coughing and sputtering, she raised frantic eyes to Willow, who looked to be on the verge of hysteria herself.
"Y-you w-want m-me to m-move out?"
"NO!" Willow shouted. Looking into Tara's watering eyes – from emotion or choking she couldn't be sure – the redhead felt a dull pain seize her chest. "Tara – no. I just thought that you might…that after last night…what with me and the grabbiness – which will NEVER happen again – but I just…I wasn't sure you'd want to live here anymore…you know, with me," she finished in a voice barely above a whisper.
Tara's panic subsided as Willow spoke. She had watched from the kitchen window as the redhead had furiously shredded the garden. She knew the other woman was blaming herself for Tara's abrupt departure the night before, and she didn't know how to tell the redhead that it was okay without encouraging her further. Her initial reaction to Willow's question was to assume that she was being asked to leave. If that were to happen, Tara's career would almost certainly be over, but that thought was secondary to her fear of being forced out of Willow's life.
"I don't want to leave," she replied quietly, thankful for not stuttering, and for the knowledge that, at least for one moment, she could be entirely truthful.
Willow had unconsciously gripped the back of a chair in her distress, her knuckles turning white while she waited for the blonde's response. When the soft words reached her ears she relaxed her hold, her eyes drifting closed and a silent mantra of 'thankyouthankyouthankyou' coursing through her brain.
"I really, uh, need to take a shower, but maybe after that…we can talk?"
"Okay," Tara murmured, turning a forced smile and tired eyes to the redhead, who returned the look and moved off down the hallway. Tara watched her go with regret.
I have to put a stop to this – whatever THIS is. Maybe I should go. I've gotten too close. I could call Finn right now and ask to be reassigned. And…and tell him what? He'd just send in some Junior G-man who wouldn't give a damn about her – argh! Listen to yourself Maclay! Best case scenario and she's NOT a spy, you think she's just going to gratefully throw herself into your arms when she finds out you've been lying to her?
The shrill ringing of the telephone preempted Tara's distraught speculations. She heard Willow call out from the shower for her to answer it.
"Willow Rosenberg's residence."
"This is Sheila Rosenberg, to whom am I speaking?"
"This is, um, Tara Maclay – Willow's housema-"
"Yes, of course, Willow mentioned she was taking in a boarder. May I speak with my daughter?"
"She's in the, umm, s-shower. I could give her a mes-"
"Just tell her that her father and I are in town. Have her meet us at the Conners in half an hour. Thank you so much Karen."
Without so much as a goodbye the line went dead. Tara stared dumbfounded at the phone.
Well that was just…rude. How on Earth did Willow – sweet, considerate, babbly Willow – come from that?"
The redhead in question was at that moment walking down the hallway, wearing only a short silk robe.
"Who was that?" she asked as she toweled her hair dry.
"Your, um, m-mother," Tara stammered, trying to avert her eyes from the tempting sight of Willow's bare legs. "She and your dad are here – they want you to meet them in a half hour…at the Conners."
Willow's body sagged noticeably and a stream of mumbled curses escaped her pursed lips.
"I take it you're not happy to see them?"
"Oh, you know, they're parents. They pretty much ignore me 99 percent of the time, then try to make it up to me and alleviate their guilt all in one long boring evening. I'll probably be stuck with them the rest of the day, but…if it's not too late, maybe we could still, uh…talk…when I get home?"
"I'd invite you to join us, but I don't secretly dislike you," Willow playfully explained, grinning widely.
Tara debated following the Rosenberg family, but decided it probably wasn't necessary, and in the end opted for a night off. Feeling a desperate need to put some distance between herself and the case, she called the one person who knew all her secrets – the one person – for now – she could be herself with.
"Hey – it's me. What are you doing tonight?"
Willow trudged up the porch steps, feeling emotionally and physically drained. She looked at her watch and grimaced at the time.
Tara must be asleep by now, she thought, cursing her parents. However, as she quietly entered the house and padded softly down the hall, she heard muted laughter coming from the spare bedroom. Noticing the light still on, she glanced through the half open door and stopped dead in her tracks. Tara sat brushing her hair at her desk, dressed in a long satin nightgown. Although the other woman faced away from the door, Willow took a step back further into the shadows of the dark hallway. Her breath hitched as she saw the blonde's smile in profile. Following the direction of the smile, her eyes fell on a pair of shoes.
Whose shoes? – whose men's shoes, that appear to contain actual feet…that are most definitely attached to legs…legs wearing pants…lounging on the bed…there's a man in there…with Tara…who's in a slinky nightgown. There's a man in there, and she's practically naked, and they're all 'la-la-la' with the laughing…and it's late – LATE late – and she's getting ready for bed…and there's a MAN in there!
Willow became increasingly agitated and indignant as her mind struggled to wrap itself around the scene in front of her.
Did I not stress the house rules? It's not like there was a big long list of rules – there were two…TWO rules! And just who the heck does that guy think he is, lounging around in MY house…ogling MY Tara…whuh?.
Willow suddenly and loudly cleared her throat. Tara turned to the door with a brilliant smile.
"Willow, you're ba-"
"Miss Maclay, may I speak to you in the living room – alone?" The redhead stalked off without a backwards glance, and Tara instantly followed, her brow creased in concern.
"Is something wrong, Wil-." Tara started, but was cut off by the other woman, who struggled to maintain a steady gaze with the blonde.
"I thought I made it clear when you moved in that I had several rules," Willow began. She paused, seeing the confusion on Tara's face, then horrified realization. The redhead jumped when Tara shouted down the hallway:
"SUE! Are you smoking?!"
"Sue?" Willow squeaked, as she heard a sing-song 'no-o' coming from the bedroom.
Willow bowed her head in embarrassment, a hand automatically rising to cover her eyes. Peeking though her fingers at Tara's face, she saw the horrified look pass back to confusion, as the blonde stared at Willow, then down the hall…Willow…hall. Finally Tara's mouth formed an 'O' and a devilish grin spread over her face.
"Hey Sue, come here."
Upon looking closely at the figure that emerged from the bedroom, Willow couldn't believe her mistake. The masculine cut of the black pinstripe suit aside, it was obviously a woman. Her short black hair was greased back, making it appear even shorter. She was tall and somewhat stocky, but her sparkling brown eyes, high cheekbones, and soft jaw line were clearly feminine. As were her other…attributes.
Huh – how'd I miss those? Willow mused.
"Willow, this is Sue; Sue – Willow." As Tara made the introductions she shot a quick but meaningful glance at the brunette, which went unnoticed by the redhead. "We, um, went to h-high school together. We ran into each other this afternoon and ended up going out. I'm sorry if we um, surprised you."
"No…no surprise. Well, maybe a little surprise…but not like 'Whuaahh! Frogs!' surprise. I'm sorry if I came off a bit like, you know, my mother."
"It's alright, Willow," Tara stated reassuringly, laying a comforting hand on the redhead's arm and filing away the frog remark for future inquiry. "If the situation was reversed I probably would have come to the same conclusion. I did promise you though – no men," she added, one side of her mouth curling into a smile.
Sue, meanwhile, stood leaning against a door-frame, casually spinning her fedora in one hand. She'd spent the entire evening listening to her friend moon over Willow one minute, then bemoan the futility of it all the next.
Before she met Tara, she had never known anyone with such a huge capacity for love, who at the same time believed herself undeserving of it. Despite repeated attempts to convince Tara to throw caution to the wind and take a chance, Sue had never seen the blonde show more than polite half-hearted interest in any woman. She could tell that this one was different, and she secretly praised her friend's taste – or not so secretly, as her eyes roamed over the redhead's body appreciatively. She knew that the problem was the investigation, but she trusted Tara's instincts as well as her own. And her friend's instincts were telling her 'she's innocent.' And 'I want her.' And 'she's yummy.' Okay, so maybe that last one was my instinct, Sue thought. Still, they look like they could use a nudge.
"Well," she started, noticing the jumps from the two women who had seemingly forgotten she was there. "This is fascinating, but the night is still young – aaat heart," she amended off of Tara's raised eyebrow. "And so am I. Sooo, I think I'll go find myself some pretty young nurse to relieve me of my…pains – since all of the women around here appear to be…otherwise occupied."
Tara's eyes shot daggers at her friend, while Willow blushed to her hairline – a fact not lost on the brunette, who took the redhead's hand in her own.
"You are just cutest thing I've ever seen – no offense Tare. Next time we go to the Bronze Vixen we'll have to bring you along. I can dance circles around Fred Astaire, and you look like you're itching for a good…twirl," she said with a rakish grin and a wink as she spun the startled girl around the room.
Tara stood with her arms crossed over her chest, trying to look disapproving, but it was no use. She rolled her eyes and laughed at Sue's flirtatiousness, wishing she were the one to be causing Willow's amazed grin.
"So m'ladies, I'll be off, and you be good," she commanded, wagging her eyebrows and stooping to kiss Willow's hand. She pulled Tara into a tight hug, quietly whispering in her ear "trust yourself, kiddo – trust her too. Call me later, 'k?"
The playful atmosphere departed along with Sue, leaving the housemates in an uncomfortable silence. The minutes ticked by as they stood, shyly glancing at each other but avoiding the conversation that had loomed over them all day. Finally, Willow summoned up her courage and cleared her throat.
"So, she's nice."
"Yeah, she's um, been a good friend," Tara replied.
"That, that's nice. So, has she – I mean is she – does she always dress like that?"
Tara realized that the redhead was stalling, circling the perimeter of what she really wanted to know. Not being in a particular hurry to reach that destination herself, the agent steeled herself for the questions ahead.
"No. She only wears that out to…certain places."
"Ah. And there are other women at these place who err…wear men's clothes?"
"Uh-huh. So…do men – actual men-type men – go there too, or is it just, um…women?"
Willow nodded, looking deeply into Tara's eyes. She dropped her gaze to the floor and her forehead creased in contemplation. She opened and closed her mouth several times before continuing in a hushed voice.
"Do – do you…have you, ever?"
Tara sighed. Here we go. "Once or twice."
Willow's eyes drifted up from the floor, slowly mapping the terrain of Tara's body, barely concealed by her nightgown, trying to picture the blonde in a suit and tie. To her surprise she found the image that formed in her head oddly arousing.
"And there's dancing…with the women…dancing together – you…dancing with other women?"
"Yes." Tara watched Willow's face for a reaction. So many emotions played over the expressive face: curiosity, confusion, fear…desire? She wanted so desperately to pull the other woman to her, stroke her hair, whisper soothing words into her ear. She wanted to tell her that it was alright – that whatever she was feeling, it was going to be okay – but she wouldn't. She couldn't because she wasn't sure herself, and it would just be one more lie. So instead she stood, barely moving, barely breathing, answering in monosyllables, watching sadly when the redhead's face became a blank mask.
"It's really late, and I…have to see a – a…friend tomorrow, so I'm just going to…um, goodnight."
Tara resisted the urge to call after her…to run down the hall and grab Willow and kiss her breathless. She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling suddenly cold and nauseous. Try as she might, she couldn't fight the tears that began to fall.
Sunday morning Willow was up and out of the house early. After an hour of listening to the rambling, confusing exposition of events, Anya had been her usual straight-to-the-point self.
"So she's a lesbian, and now you think you're a lesbian because you're having all sorts of lesbiany thoughts about her?"
"That pretty much sums it up, yeah."
"And you tried to kiss her and you thought she was repelled, but then it turns out that she has some big butch girlfriend who could have ground you into dust but instead danced around the living room with you?"
"Uhhh – yeah – maybe. They might just be friends."
"Let me guess, you got too focused on the clothes thing and completely forgot to ask them if they were doing the horizontal boogie- woogie."
"Anya! I would never ask that!"
"Well why not, for God's sake! You obviously want to know." Anya looked at her friend with exasperation. "Honestly, I don't know why I help you. You come to my home at a ridiculously early hour, take advantage of my hospitality, and then scoff at my very valuable advice."
Willow squirmed in her chair, knowing she'd been asking for this. She had barged in on Anya, having no one else to turn to. When Xander had been shipped off to Europe, he'd asked his best friend to look after his fiancée. Anya took this to mean that the redhead would become her instant talking on the phone, shopping, and gossiping best friend. When that hadn't happened, she'd made no effort to conceal her resentment.
"I know I haven't been a very good friend to you Anya, and I'm sorry. But I'll make it up to you! Why don't we do something fun next weekend – your choice."
Anya's face lit up with glee and she clapped her hands. Oh boy, what have I just agreed to?
"Okay! That's more like it! There's a USO dance on Friday night, and you are going with me – not in a lesbiany way, of course."
Willow rolled her eyes, and forced a smile. "That would be…great."
"Good, then you run on back home and talk to Tara. I'm sure you'll be having orgasms in no time!"
As she left Anya's house and began walking back to her own, Willow did not notice Tara, following behind her at a discrete distance. The blonde agent was so focused on the redhead that she too was unaware of a figure shadowing her.
Tara heard Willow moving around the house first thing in the morning, and quickly dressed, remembering her words about visiting a friend. As soon as she heard the front door click shut, Tara exited her room and set out after her suspect. The redhead walked slowly, automatically, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. The deserted tree- lined streets made it easy enough for Tara to pursue the other woman without fear of being discovered. Despite the necessity of her surveillance, the agent felt a pang of guilt at the deception.
It's for the best, she told herself. The sooner I prove her innocence, the sooner we can…
Tara snapped to attention as she saw Willow approach a small wood frame cottage. She ducked behind a tree until the redhead disappeared behind the door, which had been opened by the blonde woman from Willow's photos. As soon as they were inside, Tara casually walked by the mailbox, which read Anya Jenkins, and retreated across the street to wait.
Willow practically skipped out of the house. As much as her friend's tactlessness could be embarrassing, she had to admit that Anya's support meant a lot to her. And to say that she had been accepting of Willow's admission would be an understatement. 'The Bronze Vixen?! Of course it's a lesbian bar. Everyone knows that – really, Willow, how naïve are you? And since you obviously never listen to me, I was living in Berlin before the war, you know. If you think your little I-think-I-have-sweaty-naughty-feelings-for-a-girl speech is going to shock me, well think again, missy! I saw things you couldn't imagine, like there was this cabaret, where – HEY! Are you listening?'
Of course, Anya's encouragement always came with a certain amount of back-handed compliments. 'Well, finally there's something interesting about you.' Willow's brow creased as she recalled the words. 'And at least now I know you're not going to try and steal Xander from me.' Willow had simply rolled her eyes at that oft- repeated insecurity, and asserted for the millionth time that she had never thought of her best friend that way. 'Isn't that why you left Oz?'
A year before, when Willow had broken up with Daniel Osbourne, she told herself that they had really always been friends more than anything, and that they had simply drifted apart. He had joined the Army immediately after Pearl Harbor, and before leaving for boot camp had asked her to marry him. The proposal had unnerved her. Still in college, she had so many plans for her future, and while marriage seemed like one of life's big inevitabilities, it felt too soon. They'd written constantly for a while, especially after Oz had been shipped off to Europe. Then came the day that Oz wrote to tell her about a woman he'd met in France. His letter was achingly apologetic – he didn't even use the other woman's name – and he made it clear that nothing had or would happen as long as Willow was his girl. The redhead knew she was supposed to feel all sorts of things: anger, hurt, betrayal. But all she'd felt was…free. And so she'd given Oz his freedom as well. They'd continued to write, but the letters became fewer and farther between. In his last letter, several months before, Oz had written to tell Willow that he and Veruca had been married in a small ceremony in a tiny French village. She'd never known him to be happier.
Now, Willow wondered if she had always kept her boyfriend at arm's length because deep down she'd known it wasn't what she wanted. Their relationship had evolved from friendship, but in truth it never progressed much beyond it. The moment she met Tara, she felt…something…something she'd never felt with Oz. It was like a light-bulb turning on in her head, and memories of all the female classmates and teachers and movie stars she'd ever felt a spark of attraction for overwhelmed her. And none of them held a candle to Tara.
Willow walked into the living room and glanced nervously at Tara, who sat on the sofa looking slightly flushed. The blonde turned to her with a questioning glance, and Willow felt her chest heave. Okay Rosenberg, now or never, just tell the woman what's on your mind.
"COFFEE! I think I'll make some coffee," Oookay, that was a thing on your mind, but not really the important one, "Cause it's kind of a social-y morning-y type thing to do – coffee and donuts and paper reading – though I don't have any donuts…I could just run get some – or maybe I'll just make with the coffee…making."
Willow scampered off to the kitchen before she could complete her transformation into a babbling idiot.
Too late, She thought, as she tried to regain a fraction of the confidence she'd felt when she'd left Anya's. I can do this. I can just walk right back in there, and say 'Tara, I have to tell you something, and I hope you'll understand…and I think you will…see, I've been thinking about a lot of stuff since I met you – well, maybe even before – but I didn't really understand what it was I was thinking until then…and – okay, this is starting to confuse even me.
Willow returned to the living room, noticing that Tara had not moved an inch. Crossing the room, she set two cups down on the table and promptly ignored them. She took a seat on the far end of the couch, careful to leave a comfortable space between herself and the other woman.
"Tara," she started hesitantly. "Did you sleep well?" That's it, Rosenberg, waste time with small talk.
"Not really," the agent replied softly, dropping her head down.
"I…I'm sorry I rushed off last night. I had a lot of stuff going on up here," she said, pointing at her head and fluttering her hands nervously. "But I think I, uh…figured some things out…and Tara, I have to tell you-"
A loud knock at the door brought Willow to her feet in a flash, and she cried out in frustration.
"You have GOT to be kidding me!" She looked longingly at Tara before stalking over to the door, muttering "this had better be important."
"WHAT!," she shouted as she ripped the door open.The young man on the porch took a step back when confronted with the furious redhead. He craned his neck to look over Willow's shoulder, where he spotted an equally irate blonde.
"Hey Tara, there you are," he stated jovially. "And you must be Willow – it's nice to meet you."
"Uh, hi," Willow replied sheepishly. "Err, you are-?"
"Oh, where are my manners. I'm Tara's-"
"Brother!" Tara blurted out, not waiting to hear Finn's response. You were gonna say 'boyfriend,' weren't you – you dumb son of a bitch.
Willow turned to Tara with a surprised look, as did Riley.
"Um, yeah. Willow, this is my brother…Donald." Tara smirked at her boss, who glared at her in return.
"Well, uh, come on in, I've just made us some coffee," Willow said, stepping aside.
Once the redhead had moved into the kitchen to retrieve another cup, Tara spun around to face Riley, fury in her eyes.
"What the hell are you doing here Finn?" she hissed.
Riley ignored the question and brushed past the agent.
I can't believe this. Now I'm going to have a whole new set of lies to deal with. I'm gonna kill him. Tara reluctantly curbed her homicidal daydreams to join Willow and Riley in the living room. She started to move to sit on the couch next to Willow, but instead opted for a chair facing her.
"I can't believe you have a brother, Tara. I mean, it's not like I know that much about you, but I guess, me being an only child, I got an 'only child' impression from you too."
"Yeah, um…well…Donnie wasn't around much, and I haven't seen him in a while, so I guess I felt like an only child."
"I guess I can sort of see a resemblance," Willow remarked, pouring Riley's coffee and thus missing the looks of disgust that passed between the two agents. "So, are you in the Army, Donnie?"
"Yes, ma'am," Finn replied, grimacing at the name. "Just got back from overseas and thought I'd pay a visit to my little sister." Turning to Tara he quickly added, "I called your work – they gave me Willow's name and address."
Nice save, asshole. But I'm still gonna kill you.
"So tell me, Tara, how are Mom and Pop?"
Tara's face went white and her coffee cup came slamming down onto the saucer, shattering both. She stood up with a jerk that sent her chair careening backwards. Riley stared at her in shock. Willow moved to her side and gently touched her shoulder.
"Tara, are you okay?"
Tara shrugged off the hand and didn't respond to the question, just continued to stare bullets at Finn.
"Outside. NOW," she growled.
The blonde burst out the door, closely followed by Riley.
Willow automatically moved to clean up the spilled coffee and pick up the fallen chair, but after a few minutes her curiosity got the better of her and she wandered over to the window. Peeking around the shade, she saw the two figures sitting in a black car. Tara appeared to be arguing vehemently, while Finn sat with his hands wrapped firmly around the steering wheel, staring straight ahead.
Okay, I should definitely not be watching them. It's intrusive…and wrong…and none of my concern. Oh God, is she crying? Why is she crying? I should – go to my room…and study and…mind my own business. Right. Moving now…right now…moving.
The jangling of the telephone broke Willow away from her moral dilemma. Stupid morals.
"Hello?…Giles, hi…uh-huh…no I haven't forgotten…your place is fine, say 2:15? I'll need to leave by 5…I know it's important, but I can't be out any later…it's not like we have anything new…well then maybe you should just find someone else…of course I still want to, how can you ask me that?…no, not yet…look I have to go, I'll see you tomorrow, okay?…Bye, Giles."
Just as she was replacing the handset in the cradle, Willow heard the front door open. Tara walked past the redhead without a word, went straight to her room and closed the door.
Okay – I'll just wait here in case she comes out and wants to talk. I'm sure she'll be out aaanny minute now, and here I'll be, right here, waiting to talk.
By 8:00 pm Willow was contemplating breaking down Tara's door. She'd attempted to study, but her thoughts kept drifting to the blonde, who had yet to leave her room since that morning. When lunchtime had come and gone, Willow had hesitantly tapped on the door to ask Tara if she would eat something. She'd barely been able to hear the reply of 'not hungry.' Her concern beginning to verge on panic, she finally walked to the door and was about to knock more forcefully when it was opened by a bleary-eyed Tara. Willow moved without conscious thought, taking the blonde's face in her hands.
"Tara, are you – what happened?"
Tara reluctantly retreated from Willow's comforting touch, and sat down on the bed.
"He," Tara began, "He just…brought up some stuff…my parents…" she trailed off as a fresh wave of emotions threatened to overwhelm her. After a long pause to collect herself, she continued. "My father…he lost everything in the Depression, and it just…broke him. He tried to find work, he looked everywhere, and when he c-couldn't support us – he just left. I don't think he…it's like he couldn't stand to be there and feel so…useless. M-my m-mother – she came down with tuberculosis not long after. I tried to find him…after…after she d-d-died…but he was just…gone. I've n-never heard from him…I don't think he even knows."
Tara was startled by the proximity of the voice. At some point Willow had moved to the bed and sat down next to the blonde, taking the distraught girl's hand. Tara stared at the fingers entwined with her own, a freckled thumb lightly stroking her knuckles.
"T-two…two years since s-she…" her voice broke, and when Willow's arms wrapped around her she tightly gripped back, holding on desperately as sobs wracked her body.
Tara had no idea how long they remained that way. Gradually her shaking ceased, and the flood of tears became a trickle. She took a deep breath and caught the faint scent of gardenias. Opening her eyes, she saw a curtain of red curls enveloping her. She felt the redhead smoothing her hair and rocking her softly. She heard the whispers of 'it's okay' over and over again, and felt warm breath on her ear. She very nearly laughed, realizing that this was exactly what she had intended to do for the other woman the night before. Years of suppressed pain had left her numb for most of the day, replaced now by an overwhelming sense of calm and safety. Her eyes felt heavy from crying, and she let them drift closed in contentment. When she felt slender fingers caressing her cheek, she willingly leaned into them with a sigh. When she felt a hand cup her cheek and gently turn her head, she complied instantly. And when she felt soft lips brush her own, she returned the kiss without reservation.
Willow thought she had finally come home. The moment her lips met Tara's, she knew with certainty the answers to all the questions that had been swirling around in her head. She'd never experienced anything so undeniably right. She felt dizzy and drunk and strong. A hunger she had never known threatened to overpower her. The moment she felt Tara flinch ever so slightly she pulled away, just far enough to look into her face.
Tear stained eyes fluttered open slowly and stared, heavy-lidded, into smoky green. Willow searched the eyes for a signal to stop or continue, but she saw only exhaustion.
"You're tired," she whispered. "You should get some sleep, and I should…I should go – to my room…so you can…sleep." She stood up but did not move away from the bed or drop Tara's hand.
The words were spoken so softly that Willow thought she imagined them, until she felt slender fingers squeeze her own.
"W-would you just…stay with me…just…tonight…hold me?" Tara quietly pleaded, staring at the floor.
Willow simply nodded, even though she longed to make promises for more than just one night. She would stay, even if it were for tonight only, even if in the morning the blonde told her the kiss was a mistake. Tonight wasn't about what they might become in the future. This was about comfort now – one who needed, and one who could provide. Never losing contact with the blonde's hand, Willow scooted onto the bed to curl around the other woman. Neither spoke, and soon both drifted off into deep slumber. The same thought passed through each just before sleep overtook them:
I think I love her.
A soft but persistent murmuring in her ear roused Tara from a fitful sleep. Her eyes drifted open lazily and met a nest of auburn curls, shining like polished copper in the early morning light falling across the bed. She could feel Willow's chin tucked snuggly into her crook of her neck, her lips muttering nonsensical phrases scant millimeters from Tara's bare neck.
Mmmm…Willow, she thought dreamily, a moment before her eyes shot fully open and she came slamming headfirst into consciousness. Oh my god – Willow? Willow – in my bed – with me!
Tara stifled the impulse to leap immediately off the mattress, knowing it would wake the other woman. Taking several calming breaths, the agent quickly assessed her situation.
Okay, I'm on my back, and she's kind of…pinned against me…can't um move my left arm…definitely pinned…so that must be her arm over my stomach, making me feel all warm and safe and – FOCUS Maclay! – okay, maybe if I just um pick her arm up a little…
As she attempted to do so, the redhead frowned slightly, mumbled sleepy protestations, and tightened her grip on Tara's side.
Oookay…that's not gonna work, and…could she be any cuter? Goddess I could get used to this.
Tara shook the thought of her head and decided to try a different tactic. She reached up to grasp her pillow while at the same time inching away from Willow. After several minutes she managed to completely extricate herself, using the pillow to replace her body under the redhead's protective limb. She lingered at the side of the bed a moment, watching the other woman sleep, the pillow now firmly clutched against her body.
She's so beautiful…I can't believe she kissed me…I can't believe I kissed her – what was I thinking? Oh, but that kiss! No, I can't let that happen again – not until this is over. The thought had barely entered her mind when it was replaced with the harsh realization that once this was through, Willow would most likely want nothing to do with her.
Knowing it was only a matter of time before the redhead woke up, Tara hurriedly grabbed some clothes and retreated to the bathroom to dress. She ducked her head back into the bedroom to ensure that the other woman was still asleep, then crept carefully out of the house and to her car. She winced as the engine roared to life, the sound unnaturally loud in the early morning quiet. She spared a single glance back at the front window as she drove away, exhaling in relief at not seeing anyone there.
Several hours later Tara watched as Willow, shoulders hunched, stepped out of the house. The agent had parked her car several streets over and walked to a nearby café to wait for the redhead to leave for school.
I should have stayed away until she was gone…she looks so sad, so hurt…well, why shouldn't she? You could have at least left her a note. Coward.
Tara waited until Willow had turned the corner on her way to the bus stop before entering the house to continue her search. Several fruitless hours later, she flopped down onto the couch with an exasperated sigh.
This is ridiculous – there's nothing here. I should just call Riley and-
Soft blue eyes turned hard and icy as the thought of her boss, and the previous day's altercation, came to mind.
"This your car? Get in."
"Look, Tara, if I said something-"
"Just shut up and get in the car…what are you doing here, Finn? I mean, I know you think I'm incompetent because I'm a woman, but do you realize how much you just put my investigation in jeopardy? What the hell were you thinking?"
"I just wanted to check up-"
"Check up on me?! I don't need you to check up on me! The only thing I will ever need from you is to back me up if and when I specifically request it, and to stay out of my way until then!"
"You need to watch your tone Agent Maclay."
"Hey, I'm not the one here who almost blew another agent's cover, so don't lecture me about my tone. If you ever pull another stunt like this, I'll-"
"You'll what? Run tell your boyfriend and have me booted down to Private?"
"Boyf- what are you talking about?"
"I know there's something going on between you and Travers – I've seen your file. No one ever heard of you until six months ago when Quentin Travers signed you up for covert ops. Are you telling me it's a coincidence that when he transferred here you were the only agent he brought with him?"
"You know Finn, I don't know if you're out of your mind or just way out of line, but don't you EVER bring up my personal life again, not my family, not my friends, not even anyone I might have once stood in line next to at a movie. Clear?"
Tara quickly came to the conclusion that the last thing in the world she wanted to do right now was talk to her boss. A glance at her watch revealed that it was already after 1:00, so she hastily grabbed her copy of Willow's class schedule and set out.
After parking her car in a remote section of the lot and orienting herself, Tara walked toward the mathematics building. Studying the schedule in her hand as she walked, she didn't notice a man standing on the footpath until she'd bumped into him.
"Ooof- oh, I am so sorry – are you okay? I w-wasn't watching where I was g-going, and- oh! I spilled your tea," Tara bowed her head in remorse.
"It's quite alright – no harm done. I dare say I if I hadn't come to such a sudden halt it never would have happened. Really, there's no need to apologize."
Tara's embarrassment soothed by the man's kind words, she raised her head to look at him. He was in his mid-forties, average height and build, with short light brown hair flecked with gray. He smiled warmly as he pulled out a handkerchief to wipe the spilled tea off of his cuffs. In his tweed suit, bow – tie, and glasses, he seemed every bit the image of a British college professor.
"Is there something I can help you with, dear?" he asked, noticing the campus map in her hand.
"I was looking for the math classrooms."
"Ah, yes, just keep to the right up ahead, and the path will take you there directly. Good afternoon."
Once she'd located Willow's classroom, Tara moved to the far end of the hall to ensure that the redhead would not spot her. At 2:00 classes were let out and the hallway filled up with people, but Tara found it simple to spot Willow by her hair. Weaving carefully through the milling students, the agent trailed her suspect out of the building, back down the footpath, past the library, across the campus, and finally out onto the streets of Sunnydale. As they left the university behind, Tara felt a vague sense of unease begin to grow in the pit of her stomach.
Well, she's not spending her time in the library, that's for sure. Perhaps a friend's house to study – but then why not say so?
Twenty minutes of walking later, Willow turned at the entrance to an apartment building in one of the town's older residential sections. The structure was built in a sort of Mission style crossed with an Italian villa, with each apartment opening onto a sunken central plaza, complete with a fountain. Tara gave silent thanks to the god of surveillance that there was plentiful foliage to conceal her presence. From the top of the stairway she watched as Willow crossed the terrace and knocked on one of the doors. When it was answered a moment later by the man in tweed, the agent felt her stomach drop into her feet and her blood run cold.
It's him! – oh, Willow – there has to be a reasonable explanation for this – oh god, I have to report this – orders – I can't believe – it can't be – she can't be…
She watched in stunned silence as the two greeted each other cordially, but with a slight hint of – of what?…apprehension? He looks upset, and she-
Once the door was closed, Tara crept carefully down the stairs and to the window, determined to get a closer look inside. She held her breath as she observed Willow round the couch and take a seat, where she began to unload books from her bag. Tara thought back to the pile of textbooks she'd seen on the dining room table earlier. These looked different – older. The redhead unpacked a thick notebook that she handed to the Englishman, who flipped through several pages and nodded occasionally while Willow talked to him.
Tara could take no more. Her head was spinning as she backed away from the scene in front of her. Only her training gave her the presence of mind to check the name on the mailbox before she fled from the building. She half ran, half staggered back to the campus to retrieve her car, knowing she had no choice but to report her findings to Finn.
And then what? It still doesn't necessarily mean – sure, he's British, but that doesn't mean…it's a university, there's probably plenty of people from all over the world there. I'll just…go home, and when Willow gets back, I'll ask her where she was. If she tells me the truth, I'll- figure something out.
Her decision made, Tara drove back to the empty house to wait. Despite her rationalizations, her gut tightened in fear at the thought of what she would have to do if Willow lied to her.
It was after 6:00 before Willow arrived. Tara had been pacing for hours, working herself into a nervous frenzy, but when she heard the door opening she froze. From where she stood by the icebox she could see the redhead in her peripheral vision, tentatively walking toward her. Before reaching the kitchen, however, the other woman turned and walked into her room. Tara heard the sound of a key entering a lock, the pull of a drawer, a heavy thump, the scrape of the drawer closing, and the removal of the key.
The desk drawer…her bag…the books…notebook…that's why it was empty – she had them with her!
The puzzle solved gave Tara no comfort, as she realized she had to find a way to get back into that drawer – when it wasn't empty. At the sound of footsteps approaching, she spun around to face Willow, who smiled shyly and opened her mouth to speak.
"So, did your class run late?" Tara inquired before the redhead could begin.
"Uh, yeah. You know professors – no respect for anyone's time but their own. Tara, I-"
"W-well, of course, it's not so bad if it's an interesting class. W- which class was it?"
Willow frowned as Tara continued to direct the conversation away from the kiss the night before. The agent suppressed her emotional turmoil as she watched the other woman's consternation play across her face.
"It, um, it was uh, Differential Equations. Tara, can we-"
Tara quickly sidestepped the redhead and walked purposefully toward the door. Her eyes narrowed a fraction as she gazed back at Willow, who stood with a perplexed, forlorn expression on her face.
"I um, I have to go. I'm m-meeting my brother for dinner. I may be late." Tara opened the door and paused briefly. Looking out into the darkened street, she spoke softly. "Don't wait up."
Willow Rosenberg was finally asleep after one of the most confusing days of her life. Waking up that morning she had expected to see Tara sleeping next to her, but instead found a mangled pillow under her arm. After searching the house and finding it empty, she'd searched again for a letter, a note, a memo even. But there had been nothing, and she'd gone about her morning routine in a daze, barely remembering how she'd arrived at school. Her classes were no better; no matter how hard she'd tried to pay attention, her mind kept drifting to thoughts of Tara. Her afternoon had gone downhill from there. Giles hadn't hidden his displeasure at her 'lack of commitment' as he'd phrased it. She'd wanted to tell him why she was so preoccupied, but didn't think the older man would understand. So instead she'd stayed late out of guilt, and when she'd gotten home…
Tara's abrupt departure had shocked the young woman, who'd stood motionless for almost half an hour hoping the blonde would return. When she hadn't, Willow had mechanically gone about preparing her dinner, which was promptly thrown out after a few half-hearted bites. She'd wandered around the house, finally curling into a ball on the couch while her brain tried to analyze the situation in a logical, Willow- like fashion.
Maybe she's mad at me…I kinda took advantage of her – AGAIN – and this time was so much worse, with her all upset and crying, and then me with the kissing…, despite her concern over her behavior, Willow couldn't suppress the smile that spread over her face at the memory of Tara's lips on hers. But she did kiss me back…and she asked me to stay, which she wouldn't have if she didn't like me at least a little bit. I hope I didn't do something in my sleep – oh no! What if I was all with the grabby hands! OH DEAR GOD, what if I drooled?!
Willow leaped off the couch and raced to Tara's room to inspect the pillows, emerging from the room a moment later with a relieved sigh. Her thoughts about the morning appeased, she turned her fretting to the more recent departure.
It's not like she didn't talk to me at all…she seemed interested in my day, and yeah, I had to lie to her, but it's not like it was some big huge lie – like 'I'm married and have seven kids living in Idaho,' or 'I'm a secret agent spying on you' or anything. Maybe she just wanted to talk things out with Donnie – there was obviously some tension there. I'll just wait til she gets home and…but she said not to wait up…well, of course she did, cause family stuff and 'us' stuff would be a lot of stuff for one night…so I should just go to bed and I'll see her in the morning…unless she sneaks out again – ooh! I know!
The redhead hopped up to take a quick shower, eager to put her plan into effect the next day. She lay in bed, giddy and grinning. No more waiting around for Tara to talk to me – from now on I'm gonna be Action-Willow.
The bedroom door opened part way, allowing a sliver of light from the hallway to fall across Willow's prone form. The redhead stirred, propped herself up on one elbow, and focused sleepy eyes on the figure silhouetted in the doorway.
"Tara?" she whispered as the blonde closed the door behind her and glided toward the bed like a vision.
"Hi. I'm sorry if I woke you. I just didn't want to go to bed without apologizing."
Willow swallowed the lump in her throat.
"You're sorry we kissed?"
The blonde's sudden, if muted, laughter startled the redhead.
"God no – I'm sorry I left without saying anything this morning – and tonight."
Fully awake now, Willow's eyes roamed over Tara's body as it moved closer. She shifted to sit on the edge of the bed. The blonde came to a stop in front of the redhead, their legs brushing together. Willow found herself staring directly at Tara's full breasts, which rose and fell appealingly with every breath. The redhead's hands seemed to move of their own accord, grazing over thighs and hips before coming to rest on Tara's waist. Green eyes drifted up, seeking out their blue counterparts, already heavy-lidded with desire. The blonde placed her hands on Willow's shoulders and nudged a thigh in between the seated woman's knees as she leaned over to whisper huskily in her ear:
"I want you Willow. I have since the moment we met. And I can feel it Willow – you want me too. Don't you?"
The redhead whimpered her assent as she felt warm lips suck in her earlobe. She thought she would swoon when Tara's tongue began lazily tracing the outer rim of her suddenly VERY sensitive ears. While her brain was lost in a pleasure-induced haze, Willow's hands drifted over the tantalizing curves of Tara's hips and ass, caressing down firm thighs before beginning their slow ascent, taking the blonde's skirt with them. When she felt the clasps of a garter, her skilled fingers quickly released them. Slowly moving around to the front, she repeated the procedure, intoxicated by the sound of Tara moaning into her neck. She paused for just a moment to look up into the blonde's face.
"Are you sure?" she breathed.
"Oh yes," came the reply, and Willow was on her feet in an instant, grabbing the blonde and kissing her fiercely as she guided her to sit on the mattress. Kneeling in front of the bed, Willow gently placed one of Tara's feet on her thigh and ran her hands up the length of the slender leg, reaching under the skirt until her fingertips caught the edge of a silk stocking, which she slowly peeled down. Moving to the other leg, Willow looked up at Tara, whose mouth had curled into a half-smile that sent shockwaves through Willow's already electrified body. She gulped audibly.
"Something wrong, sweetie?"
"Uh, no…nothing wrong…everything is definitely of the right," Willow babbled, and instantly feared she'd spoiled the mood. The blonde continued to smile as she pulled Willow to her feet, planting a thigh on either side of the redhead's slim hips. Willow's eyes widened as she felt her nightgown being lifted up over her legs, and she silently raised her arms in anticipation. Her clothing discarded, Willow found herself pulled onto the bed and flipped onto her back while Tara moved to straddle her legs.
Willow lost all capacity for thought as she reveled in the sensations Tara lavished on her body: the tongue exploring her mouth, one hand caressing her breast, the other mapping an achingly slow path down her stomach. Just as she thought she couldn't take any more without exploding…
Willow woke with a start, sitting bolt upright and breathing heavily, several strands of damp hair clinging to her face. Her eyes darted around the room as she gradually came to the realization that it had been a dream. Emitting a low groan, she flopped back down, laying a calming hand on her heart, which continued to race wildly. Despite the early hour, she forced herself out of bed, knowing she had to be the first one out of the house this morning.
Tara's alarm clock rang at 7:00 and she quickly silenced it. Remembering that Willow didn't have class until afternoon, she hoped the redhead would sleep in. The agent dragged herself to the shower, exhausted after getting in at 2:00 a.m. Her report had gone well – Finn had been conspicuously polite as she'd relayed the information about Willow's meeting with Rupert Giles. Anxious to get into the office to see if there was any information on the man yet, she almost missed the note lying on the table next to her keys. Yawning and rubbing her still sleepy eyes, she unfolded the single sheet.
I know you have a lot on your mind right now, and I don't want to cause you any more problems, but I really think we need to talk, and I feel like you've been all avoid-y. So I'm going to do something I've never done and skip my class today to have lunch with you. It's that important to me, as are you. I'll meet you at your office at noon.
Tara reread the letter three times, then raced around the house and yard, but the redhead had apparently managed to duck out without a sound that morning. The agent shuffled into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, the reality of the situation slowly registering.
Willow…my office…Willow AT my office…I'm gonna have to play stenographer today…oh crap.
At 8:45 a.m. Tara pulled to a stop in front of a large unobtrusive office building and checked the address she'd been given the week before. She let out a sigh as she got out of her car. The words 'U.S. Army Administration Building' were engraved above the double glass doors, with no other indication of the offices housed inside.
Very stealthy, Tara thought as she walked into the small entryway occupied by a single gray metal desk. At her approach, the Corporal manning the desk looked up with an expression trapped somewhere between irritation and boredom.
"What can I do for you," he asked in a voice that clearly reflected his intention to do as little as possible.
"Tara Maclay to see Miss Calendar. I believe I'm expected."
"Down that hall, third door on the left," he answered curtly, jerking his thumb in the general direction and returning his attention to his Captain America comic.
Tara murmured an equally curt thank you and briskly walked away. The door indicated had 'Stenography Section 4' etched into the frosted glass. Upon entering, she was assaulted with the sound of phones ringing, voices speaking, and the clickety-clack of a dozen typewriters. The large open room held roughly twenty desks, identical except for the women sitting at them. Tara noticed that many of the women wore the tan skirts and blouses of the Women's Army Corps. To her left she saw a small private office marked Supervisor.
Okay Tara you can do this, it's only for a few hours, she convinced herself as she knocked and was bid to come in. The uniformed brunette sitting at the desk smiled warmly over her coffee mug as she gestured to a chair.
"Tara Maclay right? Commander Travers said you might stop by. Would you mind shutting that door-it's hard to think with that racket, much less hold a conversation."
"I appreciate you letting me barge in on so little notice, Miss Calendar."
"Call me Jenny, and it's no problem. I owed Quentin a favor, and he's spoken very highly of you. I assume he told you what we do here at Special Info Branch?"
"Well, more or less-probably less. I know that you monitor all calls to and from War Department buildings."
"Yeah, we spy on the spies-War Department, Army, government contractors-you name it. You wouldn't believe the paranoia out there…which is why I can give you a desk on loan, but the phone will not be activated."
"A desk will be fine. I hope-I mean, I don't plan to be here very long. Someone is m-meeting me at noon. It was kind of um, unexpected, but I don't think I'll need to impose any longer than that."
"Great. You look about as thrilled to be here as I do most days. I'm sure it's nowhere near as exciting as your line of work, but we're all on the same team, right?"
"If you don't mind my asking, what do the, um, others know about me?"
"Your name. They don't know you're government-a few of them are civilians, so they'll just assume you are too. As far as they're concerned you're here doing some work for one of the higher-ups. I doubt they'll ask about it."
Tara nodded with some relief as Jenny led her out into the office. Looking around the room, the agent saw only one empty desk. She noticed the other woman's grimace as she steered them in that direction. The brunette turned and gave her an apologetic smile.
"Hate to do this to you-Cordelia, you want to move your suitcase," Jenny stated, indicating the enormous makeup case occupying the open desk's chair. An imperious glare was leveled at the supervisor, followed by the most disingenuous smile Tara had ever seen.
"Tara Maclay, this is Cordelia Chase, that's Harmony Kendall, and next to her is Amy Madison. I'd tell you they don't bite, but that hasn't been confirmed. Enjoy your stay! Oh, and ladies," she added to the three stenographers, "try not to embarrass yourselves – or me."
The next three hours dragged on endlessly, and Tara found herself repeatedly checking the door while trying to work on her weekly report. Despite Jenny's assurances, she had been concerned that the three women would grill her about her work, but Cordelia and Harmony seemed far more interested in asking about her personal life-did she had a boyfriend, was he cute, in the military…The fact that she'd said no to the first question hadn't dissuaded the rest, though they spent most of the time discussing the men in their own lives. The third woman had remained quiet, seemingly working, but Tara could see out of the corner of her eye that Amy appeared to be eavesdropping while trying to look as though she wasn't.
At exactly noon Jenny walked up to Tara's desk to tell her she had a visitor. The blonde looked up with relief to see a smiling redhead standing shyly in the doorway, hands demurely folded in front of her. The agent gathered her things and practically bolted for the door.
"Willow!" she exclaimed with more exuberance than she intended. "I'm so glad you're here. Let's go." Get me the hell away from here now, she wanted to add.
The two barely spoke as they made their way to a nearby café. Despite the beautiful day, Willow led them inside, away from the crowded patio tables. After settling at a private table in a remote corner and giving the waitress their orders, Willow breached the silence.
"I'm sorry about showing up at your office like that…I usually wouldn't…but I didn't know what else to do. Tara, I've just wanted to talk to you so much the past couple of days, and all these…things…keep getting in the way. I know it's been kind of…awkward, you know, between us…but I don't want-you know, I had a whole speech planned out in my head, and now it's all confused, and…Tara? Say something? Please?"
The blonde had not been able to look at Willow since the redhead had begun talking. She knew they were going to have to talk, but part of her was secretly hoping for an interruption. She thought it ironic that she almost wished Riley would show up. As their drinks were served, she turned her eyes to Willow's, instantly recognizing her own confliction and confusion reflected back.
"I don't know what to say, Willow. What is it you w-want to hear?" She hadn't intended to sound so defensive, and the hurt look on the redhead's face made her instantly regret her harsh words.
"We kissed, Tara," she whispered after a nervous glance around the largely deserted room. "We kissed, and I thought-no. I know that it meant something to me. No one's ever made me feel that way before, and I thought you felt it to, but I just don't know, cause you keep running away from me."
Tara's heart swelled at the words and simultaneously ached at the sight of the redhead, head bowed, eyes reddening, lip quivering. She's in so much pain, yet she's still so brave. I can't keep hurting her. I-
"I d-do care for you Willow, and I'm sorry I've been…um, distant?" she began, choosing her words carefully. "It's just…it's so soon…and unexpected…a little overwhelming-there's so m-much we don't know about each other."
Willow's expression changed from despondent to hopeful to elated as the blonde spoke. Practically bouncing in her seat, she blew out a puff of air and waved her hand.
"Is that all? Tara, that's nothing! What do you want to know? I'm an open book – read me!"
"Come on Will, no one's an open book. Everyone's got secrets."
The words were out of Tara's mouth before she could stop herself, and a moment of uncomfortable silence descended, broken by the arrival of their food. The rest of lunch was devoted to safer topics, primarily films, which Willow claimed to be an expert on. Tara reluctantly remarked that her 'lunch hour' was almost over, but not before the tenacious redhead had extracted a promise of a movie that night. As they walked back to her office, Tara playfully chastised Willow for skipping class, and after several minutes she successfully tapped into the student's guilt and convinced her to go late. Standing outside the office building, they eyed each other shyly, both wanting something but uncomfortably aware of the public location. Finally summoning her nerve, Willow leaned in to plant a quick peck on Tara's cheek. The redhead grinned widely as she skipped to the bus stop, glancing back once to wave at the blushing blonde.
Once Tara saw Willow board the bus, she hurried to her car, eager to get to her real office. Halfway there she suddenly slammed on the brakes as a thought occurred to her.
Willow wasn't going to go to school…she didn't have her bag with her…it must be in her desk!
The agent made a quick u-turn and raced to the house, barely able to contain her excitement. As she walked into the house, the possibility that what she found in the drawer could potentially prove Willow's guilt gave her a moment's pause. Her anxiety mounted as she retrieved her lock picks, walked to the redhead's room, pulled out the chair, and knelt by the drawer. With shaking hands she manipulated the lock. She eased open the drawer and held her breath at the sight of the canvas bag. She glanced nervously around her as she lifted it out, half expecting to be caught snooping. She sat on the floor and began unpacking the contents, setting aside the notebook as she stacked the books between her outstretched legs. Picking up the first, she read the title: A History of Paganism. Scowling, she looked at the next: Griffin's Compendium of Pre-Christian Mythology. Rituals and Customs of the Ancient World. The Complete Anthology of Pagan Signs and Symbols. The Origin of Monsters: Witchcraft, Vampirism, and Lycanthropy in Medieval Europe. Tara opened the notebook, immediately recognizing Willow's precise penmanship. Page after page was filled with notes, outlines, and bibliographic information. Tara stared at the books strewn around her.
What the hell- Her perplexed expression faded as she remembered things the redhead had told her. A smile crept over her face, which quickly became a wide grin.
Willow you big goof, I knew you weren't a spy. Oh, but sweetie, I don't think you'll ever be an engineer.
Tara felt an enormous weight lifted off her shoulders as she packed up Willow's books and locked them back in the drawer. The doubts that had plagued her over the past day now vanquished, she was determined to bring the investigation to a swift conclusion. With no damning evidence in the house, and the association with Rupert Giles apparently scholarly in nature, Tara was sure that Travers and Finn would shut down the surveillance.
Willow will be cleared, and then-, Tara's buoyant mood deflated in an instant. And then I'll be moving back to my drab, lonely apartment, and I'll have to tell her who I am…and…and then she'll never speak to me again.
The agent knew she was jumping to conclusions, but very little in her past had led her to place trust in optimism. This time she desperately wanted to believe it would work out, but her pessimistic nature worked against her. The strength of her feelings toward Willow – after knowing the woman less than a week – continued to amaze her. She knew she could never simply walk away from Willow, but that didn't mean that Willow wouldn't walk away from her.
She'd have every right to, Tara told herself. She may be keeping secrets too, and God only knows what her reasons are, but lying about what subjects you're studying in school just does not compare to what I've been doing. She knows my real name, and that's pretty much it. Okay, gotta stop wallowing here and go report. This isn't about me, it's about clearing Willow's name.
When Tara arrived at her building, she found it practically deserted. Unable to find Finn, she walked down the hall to Travers' office. Miss Summers looked up from her magazine and stopped smacking her gum as Tara approached.
"He's not in," she stated, not waiting for the question.
Tara frowned in irritation.
"Do you know when he'll be back?"
"Couple days at least – he had to fly to London for some big meeting or something."
"Just great. Where's Agent Finn?"
"He's gone too," she pouted. "Washington D.C."
"Um…Buffy, right? Did he say when he'd be back?" Upon receiving a jealous glare, she quickly added, "I-it's about a case, it's important."
"Tomorrow morning – he just had to meet a guy about another guy."
Tara mumbled thank you and left. It was just after 4 pm, and not knowing when Willow would be home, the agent decided to pay a visit to a friend.
"So they've both gone off for meetings about who knows what, and I have to learn about it from Travers' secretary?! Can you believe this?! Never mind that I just turned up some pretty important information and who am I supposed to report it too, huh?! Buffy?! This is such…bullshit, Sue!"
The brunette quirked an eyebrow at her irate friend, who continued to pace around the living room.
"Whoa, settle down there sailor – you want a cigarette and a shot of whiskey to go with that mouth?" Her attempt at humor rewarded with a stern glance, Sue held up her hands in surrender.
"Hey, I'm on your side. I agree it's inconvenient but, so what? So you have to wait one day – I don't see why you're getting so worked up about it, Tare."
The agent moved to sit next to her friend, leaning her head on the other woman's shoulder and letting out a long sigh.
"I just want it to be over…but…but I'm terrified of what's going to happen when it is," she confessed.
"Oh right, I know this one – this is the one where everything goes to hell and you just accept it because it's what you think you deserve."
Tara stiffened and moved to stand up, but was restrained by a strong hand on her arm.
"That's what's bullshit, Tare. You have a job to do, and if it wasn't you, someone else would be doing it – someone who wouldn't care about her, and who might not do it as well. If she can't understand that, then you make her understand. And if she means that much to you, you fight to keep her. Life's dealt you a couple of bad hands, kiddo, but they won't all be, and you deserve as much happiness as anyone I know. You just gotta stop dropping out of the race before it's even started, or you're never gonna win."
Tara had sat motionless throughout her friend's speech, but when she felt the blonde's body relax, Sue knew she had gotten her point across.
"So, do you have any more metaphors to throw at me, or are we done here?"
"Go ahead and mock me," the brunette replied dramatically.
"I believe I just did," Tara laughed.
"You're such a pain in the ass, Maclay," Sue retorted, kissing the top of Tara's head and lightly shoving her shoulder. "Now get the hell out of my house, I have a date to get ready for."
Yeah, me too, thought Tara with a smile, as she departed the house in a much improved mood.
Willow had been home when she arrived, and after a quick bite to eat, they headed to the Sunnydale Cinema for the early showing of Alfred Hitchcock's ‘Shadow of a Doubt.' Reminding her of the radio incident, Tara playfully insisted that Willow would just get scared. The redhead protested, claiming that it was the storm that had caused her reaction that night. Several hours and one extremely large sundae from the ice cream parlor later, the women returned home.
"I just don't know why you think you like suspense so much – you hardly even saw any of the film."
"I did so," Willow replied in a small voice.
"But you had your face buried in my neck the whole t-," realization dawned on Tara and she abruptly turned to face the redhead, who stood rocking on her feet and whistling, hands folded behind her back, eyes directed at the ceiling.
"Why Miss Rosenberg! You weren't scared at all! You were trying to get fresh with me!"
Tara's attempts to maintain a stern expression were foiled by the wide grin plastered on the redhead's face, and soon both girls were giggling hysterically. After a moment, Willow clutched her stomach.
"Oh…ow…I think I…ow…maybe ate too much…oh…ice cream," she managed to get out through her laughter.
"You think?" Tara asked through her own tears. "You ate an entire Sundae Ship, Will! Those are made for two people, and I only had maybe two bites."
"Okay…ow…so, not my best idea…oh, ow…this hurts."
"Are you going to be sick?" Tara asked, her mirth suddenly replaced by concern.
"Ughh…no?…I think I just need to lie down."
With Tara's support, Willow shuffled to her bedroom, where the blonde ordered her to lie on her back.
"I know something that might help…if you want me to try."
As Willow nodded, Tara moved to sit on the edge of the bed, curling one leg in front of her. She tugged the prone woman's blouse free of her skirt and began to undo the lowest few buttons. Willow watched Tara's face intently. The blonde's gaze remained focused on the redhead's stomach, now covered only by a thin chemise. Tara placed her palm flat against the smooth surface and began to move her hand clockwise in wide circles. Willow's eyes drifted closed under the soothing pressure.
"This okay?" Tara whispered.
"Mmmm," was all Willow could manage. After several minutes she opened her eyes, sighing at the sight of Tara gazing back at her, an unmistakable look on her face. Willow stilled the hand on her stomach and stood up. Never breaking eye contact, she silently finished unbuttoning her blouse and shrugged it off of her shoulders, letting it drop to the floor. Reaching behind her back she lowered the zipper on her skirt, allowed it too to fall, and stepped out of it. Blue eyes dropped to the clothing pooled on the floor, then slowly drifted upward to meet sparkling green. Willow resumed her pose on the bed, clad only in her slip and chemise, which she pulled up until it reached just to the underside of her breasts. Taking the blonde's hand in her own, she gently placed it back on her now bare stomach. Tara resumed the circling motion while Willow let her own hand rest on the blonde's knee.
The sensation of touching Willow's naked skin sent tingles shooting up Tara's arm from her fingertips to her shoulder. As blue eyes searched green, another stronger reaction coursed through her body, pulsing down from her heart to her stomach and finally settling between her legs. Her breath hitched and her cheeks blushed as she realized the extent of her arousal.
Tara felt Willow's hand slide up her knee to her thigh, where it gently massaged the taut muscle. Without conscious thought, the blonde ceased her hand's circling and began caressing up the redhead's side. When her thumb brushed the side of a breast, both women released a soft moan.
Willow was sitting up in an instant, holding Tara's face in her hands and kissing her hungrily. Tongues slipped past compliant lips as mouths opened to each other's need. Tara snaked one hand around the redhead's neck as the other kneaded a small firm breast. Willow's hands dropped from Tara's face to the front of her blouse, where they began working frantically at the top button.
Sometime around the third button, Tara realized what was happening. With every ounce of willpower she had, she took Willow's hands in her own, and pulled away from the redhead's enticing lips.
"Willow, w-we have to stop…it's t-too soon."
"But…ehh…we…I…oh…really?" she sputtered, the disappointment evident in her voice.
"I'm s-sorry…I shouldn't have let it…it's just…I just can't – not yet," Tara said quietly, avoiding the redhead's eyes. Not til I can be honest with you, she added to herself.
Willow lifted the blonde's chin up and smiled at her warmly.
"It's okay, Tara. You're right. It's not like we planned – I mean, you were just trying to make my tummy all better – which it is, by the way – and then it all of a sudden it's like, whoa!…and then with the kissing and the touching and the moaning and-"
"This really isn't helping sweetie."
"Oh, right…sorry. Would, would you at least…you know…like to…uh, stay here…with me?" Willow asked in a small, hopeful voice. Her forehead creased as Tara shook her head no.
"You're too tempting," Tara explained with a sexy half-smile. "I think it would be, um safer tonight if I go to my room. I'll see you in the morning, okay?"
The redhead attempted to sway the blonde with pouting, but was forced to settle for a lingering goodnight kiss. As the door closed, Willow lay back in the bed, thoughts of Tara swimming through her head.
Okay Rosenberg, tomorrow you're going to tell her the truth.
Tara leaned against the other side of the door, trying to steady her heartbeat as images of Willow flashed through her brain.
Okay Maclay, tomorrow you're going to tell her the truth.
"Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me, anyone else but me, anyone else but me…"
Tara woke to the sound of Willow singing in the shower. The blonde stretched luxuriously and absent-mindedly touched her fingertips to her lips, a smile spreading across her face as she thought about the previous evening. Happily listening to Willow's warbling, Tara laughed and pulled on her robe when the chorus degenerated into a rousing strain of la-la-las.
Someone's in a good mood. And none of the Andrews Sisters need to worry about being replaced.
The blonde ambled into the kitchen and set about making coffee and breakfast. She had just finished mixing a bowl of pancake batter when Willow emerged from the bathroom in the same short robe that had so flustered the agent a few days before. Expecting the redhead to dress before eating, Tara was pleasantly surprised when sure hands encircled her waist and pulled her back into a close embrace. Through the thin layers of material she could feel pert breasts pressing into her back and slightly damp skin soaking through her nightclothes. One of Willow's hands moved to pull the blonde's hair back, exposing a long expanse of neck that the redhead began placing gentle kisses on. Tara set the bowl down with shaky hands, closing her eyes as her body responded to the sensations. After a few moments she let out a stifled gasp, and could feel Willow smile into her neck.
"Mmmm…good morning," the redhead whispered, her voice low and sultry. Tara turned in her arms and was met with a decidedly smug expression and dancing green eyes.
"Morning, sweetie. You look awfully pleased with yourself," the blonde teased with a grin. "I take it you slept well?"
"Mm-hmm," Willow replied as she leaned in to continue her attention on Tara's neck, delighting in the blonde's reactions as her lips brushed over the soft skin. "I had…mmm…such a nice dream…and I woke up feeling…sooo satisfied…but then I…came in here…and now I'm…mmmm all…hungry again."
It took all Tara's restraint not to tear off Willow's robe and make love to her right then and there. Whether it was the teasing words, or the huskiness of her voice, or the way their bodies fit together so perfectly, Tara couldn't be sure. She only knew that in just a few short minutes the redhead had brought her to a state of arousal that was quickly cutting off her ability to think clearly. When Willow abruptly stepped away, the blonde's addled brain silently cried out at the loss of contact.
"So I guess I should let you finish making breakfast. Ooh! Pancakes!"
Tara's brow furrowed and her eyes passed dumbly from the bowl on the counter to Willow, who stood pouring coffee and smiling sweetly. The look of innocence on the redhead's face contrasted sharply with her pose as she leaned one arm on the counter and gazed at her housemate. Tara sensed that the other woman was fully aware that her stance caused the robe to part slightly, providing the blonde with a tantalizing view of the inner curve of Willow's breasts.
Vixen, Tara thought, as she turned to pour batter into the pan. Well, Miss Rosenberg, two can play that game.
"This'll be a few minutes – why don't you go and get dressed while I set the table."
"Oh, that's okay, I can change after we eat. I'd rather stay and…give you a hand?"
Tara bit her lip to stifle a giggle at the innuendo. Turning her head, she regarded Willow seriously.
"Sweetie, I don't want you catching a cold, and you don't want to be late for school. I've got everything under control here – you go ahead."
Tara nearly laughed again at the disgruntled look on Willow's face as she finally relented and disappeared into her room. Breakfast was spent discussing the news and their day's plans. Shy glances from previous occasions were replaced with lingering looks. When the time came for Willow to leave for class, Tara slipped an arm around the redhead's waist and walked her to the door. Before it could be opened, the blonde pulled her close, moving her free hand to the back of Willow's head as she crushed their mouths together in a smouldering kiss. Tara sucked the redhead's bottom lip between her own, running the tip of her tongue over the trapped flesh. When she felt Willow's body begin to sag, Tara stepped back to look with amusement at the sight of the other woman wobbling slightly, mouth hanging open and eyes glazed.
Gotcha, she congratulated herself.
"Have a good day, sweetie," she said sincerely. "Oh, and Willow? Since you seem so…famished today, maybe we can see about satisfying your, um, appetite this evening."
Not bothering to suppress her grin this time, Tara gently nudged Willow out the door and onto the porch, where the redhead stood for a long moment, jaw slack and eyes widening.
An hour later, when Tara walked into her office, she was relieved to see Riley back and working at his desk. As he finished a phone call, she waited at the door, letting her mind wander to thoughts of Willow. She felt a remarkable lack of apprehension at how quickly their relationship was progressing. With other women, Tara had always put up a wall, physically and emotionally. The one or two actual dates she had gone on – at Sue's insistence – had been painfully awkward. The agent shook her head at the memory of the most recent, an aircraft riveter actually named Rosie who had, when her advances were spurned, openly questioned Tara's lesbianism. With Willow, however, she had at last found what was missing: the spark that told her ‘this is the one.' She'd begun to doubt its existence until it had been ignited by the redhead. Knowing that the other woman felt the same gave Tara the courage to face any consequences of her necessary deceit. And she had no doubt that Willow wanted her too – her behavior that morning proved it. Her own boldness astonished her, yet she had no misgivings, so long as they could somehow get beyond the circumstances of their introduction.
"MACLAY," Riley barked, breaking the blonde's train of thought. "Are you just going to stand in my doorway daydreaming or are you here for a reason?"
Tara felt herself begin to blush, but refused to drop her eyes, determined to appear confident in front of her boss. She moved to the chairs across from Finn's desk, but remained standing.
"Sir, I've completed my search of Wil- Miss Rosenberg's house, and turned up no evidence of her involvement in any espionage. The drawer I told you about only contained some books and notes on paganism and witchcraft – apparently she's been studying under the tutelage of Mr. Giles. Considering the circumstances I believe that there is nothing to indicate that she is the Rose, and I would recommend discontinuing the surveillance. Sir," she added in conclusion, somewhat irritated that Finn had not stopped looking at the papers in front of him throughout her report.
"Have a seat, Agent Maclay."
Tara complied as Riley reached for a file, which he tossed across the desk at her. She hesitantly opened it as Riley began reciting.
"Rupert Giles – British citizen, currently a visiting professor of anthropology at University of California, Sunnydale, 46 years old, never married, no children, no criminal record, no known subversive associations, enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1914, served with distinction in the Great War, injured in 1916, honorably discharged, after which he studied at Oxford under Henry Wyndham-Pryce. You recognize the name?"
Riley paused to glance at Tara, whose face was tensed with concentration as an uneasy feeling gripped the pit of her stomach. She nodded stiffly and Finn continued.
"Well, then you know that Wyndham-Pryce is the hotshot classical linguist who helped put together the team that cracked the German ENIGMA code. He recruited a number of his more promising students, past and present, including one Rupert Giles. Mr. Giles didn't stay with the program, but he was involved long enough to attend a joint U.S.-British cryptanalyst conference in Washington D.C. last November, where we have witness testimony that he met a Miss Willow Rosenberg. Then, surprise surprise, two months ago, they both relocate to Sunnydale, California. Now maybe they're just a couple of wackos studying the occult together, but why does that seem like too much of a coincidence to me?"
Before Tara could answer – luckily, she thought, as she had none – Buffy ducked her head into the office to deliver a telegram from Commander Travers. Riley read it in silence, then looked up with a self-satisfied smile.
"Well, looks like we have our chance to nail them."
Tara shifted uncomfortably at Finn's words. Has she been playing me for a fool all along? she thought, but just as quickly squelched the idea.
"Another transmission between the Brit and the Rose has been intercepted. They've arranged a meeting to hand over information."
"With all due respect, sir, Wi- Miss Rosenberg and Mr. Giles seem to meet regularly already. If they are in fact our suspects, why would they need to arrange a specific meeting in code?"
Finn frowned as he seemed to consider the agent's words, then shrugged noncommittally.
"Maybe, but why do Commie spies do anything? In any event, we'll find out their real identities on Friday night, one way or another. Until then, you're going to stay where you are – understood?"
"Yes sir," Tara mumbled. Okay, two more days. Two more days of hiding the truth and not touching her – well not too much, anyway. This stinks.
As she reached the door she turned back to Finn.
"Sir? Where's the meeting taking place?"
"USO dance at the Sunnydale Lodge. If Rosenberg and Giles don't show, then I guess they're off the hook."
Once she'd made it off of the porch, Willow practically floated through the day. She skipped to her classes whistling happy tunes and beamed at everyone she met. She was the perfect picture of a young woman in love. She marveled at the glorious fall day as she bought a coffee and settled into an outdoor seat at the school café. Caught up in identifying frolicking woodland creatures in the large fluffy clouds, she did not notice Giles' arrival until his insistent throat clearing roused her from her reverie.
"Giles! Hi! Isn't it a beautiful day?"
"Actually, it's quite cold for this time of year, and those clouds look rather ominous. And I would appreciate it if you'd call me Professor Giles when we're on campus. I don't believe that a modicum of respect would be too much to ask for."
Willow squinted at her mentor and laughed.
"Sorry Professor grumpy pants. But I still think it's a lovely day, so stop raining on my parade."
"You're uncharacteristically cheerful this afternoon, Willow. Did you finally speak to your parents?"
"Um…er…not so much," Willow stammered, avoiding the Englishman's disapproving glare. "I am going to tell Tara though – tonight!"
"My, uh, housemate. Giles, she's so amazing – she's sweet and funny and smart and she kinda looks like Veronica Lake, only prettier-"
"Yes, that's all well and good, Willow, but don't you think you should let your parents know your plans? You will be registering for the spring semester soon, and they're bound to find out then."
"I know, and I will Giles – I promise."
"Excellent. So I'll see you at 2:30?"
Willow's face went blank for an instant, then she slapped herself on the forehead.
"Books! I left them at home!"
"Really Willow, that's not like you at all."
"I know, I'm sorry. I was just a little…err…distracted this morning. Oh! Why don't you come over to my place and we can work there?"
"Very well," he replied with a sigh, "2:30 – sharp."
At 4:30 Tara trudged up the steps to Willow's house. Her brief meeting with Riley had turned into an all day strategizing session with the entire department in preparation for Friday night. Riley shone in the role of tactical commander, decisively placing each of his agents like pieces on a chessboard. Two men were assigned to watch each of the four exterior doors at the Sunnydale Lodge; half a dozen more would be inside, undercover as servicemen; the rest of the unit – save two – would establish a perimeter around the Lodge, waiting for Finn's signal to sweep in. Graham had been assigned surveillance duty on Giles, and would continue to tail the Professor, while Tara would stick with Willow.
The team was set to rendezvous on Friday afternoon at 3:00 pm. Since Graham and Tara would not be able to leave their suspects, they went through an additional debriefing. As she prepared to leave, Tara was called back into Riley's office.
"You wanted to see me sir?"
"I understand you declined a firearm when you began this assignment, Maclay."
"Yes s-sir. I don't feel comfortable with them, and I didn't think it would be necessary."
Finn looked at Tara as if she'd insisted she didn't intend to breathe anymore.
"Yeah, well, this is a team operation now, and I won't have any member of my team going in unprepared."
Riley pulled a cloth bag out of his desk drawer and laid it on the surface in front of her, next to a small box. The smell of oil reached Tara's nostrils, and she cringed.
"You do know how to shoot, don't you Agent Maclay?"
"Yes sir, I did receive my certificate of marksmanship," she replied with just a hint of sarcasm.
"Good," Finn stated, not noticing the other agent's tone as he sat down and turned his attention to other matters. "We're done here."
Tara didn't respond as she reluctantly picked up the gun and box of shells, placed them carefully in her purse, and exited the office.
Now, standing outside Willow's house Tara shifted her shoulder uncomfortably under the unfamiliar weight of the weapon. The idea of bringing it into the house unnerved her. It was the ultimate proof of her official position, and their relationship to one another. She was the law, Willow the suspected criminal, and if it came down to it, Tara would be expected to use it without hesitation, even against -
That's never going to happen, Tara thought, shaking the image out of her head. Making a quick decision, she hurried to her car, placed the revolver in the glove box, locked everything up tight, and headed into the house.
"Tara! You're home!"
In her exhaustion, the blonde had walked right past the dining room, where books and papers were strewn all over the table. She smiled at the redhead, then peered past her to the familiar figure seated at the table.
"I want you to meet someone. Tara, this Mr. Giles; Giles, this is Tara Maclay."
"N-nice to meet you Mr. Giles," the agent said, hoping the man wouldn't recognize her. Even as the thought formed in her mind, she could see he was studying her face intently.
"Yes, nice to- I'm sorry, but haven't we met before, Miss Maclay? You look awfully familiar."
"No sir, I don't think so," she replied, ducking her head slightly.
"Hmm. Yes, well, my mistake. Willow, I believe we've done enough for today. I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Sure," the redhead responded, eager to be alone with Tara. The moment Giles was out the door, Willow threw herself into the blonde's arms in a tight hug.
"God, I missed you so much."
Before Tara could reply, the redhead's lips were on hers, smothering her words. Just as suddenly as the kiss began it ended, and Willow took a step back while maintaining her hold on the blonde's hands.
"Tara, I have to tell you some things, but I thought we could have dinner first, cause it may take a while…and it's nothing bad…but I want to be totally honest with you – not that I've been lying…well, maybe a little…it's just, I haven't really told anyone…but it's important to me that you know…because I – I trust you, and I don't want there to be any secrets between us."
Tara felt her heart leap into her throat. Her excitement at Willow's decision to tell her what was going on was palpable, but tempered by the knowledge that she could not yet reply in kind. The two raced through dinner, both anxious for the forthcoming conversation. After washing the last of the dishes, Willow again took Tara's hands and led her to the table.
"Do you know what this is," the redhead asked rhetorically, sweeping a hand in the direction of the books. "This is my future, Tara. I'm changing my major – I haven't wanted to be an engineer for a while, but it wasn't til I met Professor Giles that I realized what I did want. I'm gonna be an anthropologist!"
"That's wonderful, sweetie, but…why all the secrecy?"
Willow led them into the living room, where they sat facing each other on the couch.
"I know it seems silly, but you'd have to know my parents. When I first went to college I think they assumed that I was just going in order to snag a husband. Hey! No laughing! Anyway, when they realized that wasn't the case, they became adamant that I study something practical. Soon it was all they ever said about me – how their daughter was going to be the 'greatest woman engineer ever.' It's like it became my whole identity to them. And I was good at it, but it never felt right – kinda like dating boys," she added with a devilish grin.
"Oh, so you were good at dating boys," Tara smirked in return, raising an eyebrow.
"What? NO! Not good – bad, very bad! And not boys…boy…just the one…and now…well…now I only wanna date you," she added in a whisper.
The blonde took in the sight of Willow: head slightly bowed, searching green eyes full of hope. Tara slid across the couch and leaned towards the other girl, kissing her softly; lips delicately tracing the outline of the redhead's mouth before continuing across her cheek, up her jaw, and finally to her ear.
"I want that too, Willow."
The redhead's arms came up around Tara's back and held her in place as she continued talking. The blonde rested her head on Willow's shoulder and sighed contentedly.
"I realized that I didn't want to know how things work, I want to know how people work. You know…how beliefs are created, how they pass from one group to another, why they change. Giles introduced me to all this amazing information about pagan cultures, and how they were affected by the institutionalization of religion. Did you know that many of the people charged with witchcraft in the Middle Ages were what we would now classify as midwives? Just because they didn't bow down to the big men in the village, they were persecuted horribly. And there's so much more. But I've been spending a lot of time helping Giles do research for a book he's writing – not being in class like I told you. I'm sorry I lied."
Tara smiled and turned her head a fraction to place a quick peck on Willow's neck.
"S'okay sweetie. I get it – doing something new can be scary."
"It is. I only hope my parents will understand."
"Bu you don't think they will?"
"They still think I go to Temple regularly. If they knew – especially with everything going on in Europe – I think they'd assume I'm worshipping Satan or something."
"Hmm…I can see why'd you'd be nervous, but aren't you selling them a little short? You're studying a subject, not rushing off to join a coven of witches, or calling on the powers of darkness to wreak unholy vengeance- you're not, are you?"
The redhead rolled her eyes and poked Tara in the side, causing the blonde to giggle and squirm, much to Willow's delight.
"I mean, if it's that important to you then you just have to be honest, and hope they'll understand why you're doing it, and also why you couldn't tell them. And if they really care about you, they'll accept it, and still love you." The agent paused as her own words echoed in her head.
"You really are wonderful Tara, you know that?"
Tara lifted her head to look into green eyes, glistening with unshed tears.
"Sweetie? Are you alright?"
Willow nodded emphatically as the blonde reached up to caress a soft cheek.
"Just happy. Oh! Wait here – I'll be right back."
The redhead extracted herself from the couch and went into her bedroom, reappearing several minutes later with a handful of snapshots.
"These are some friends of mine," she began as she handed Tara the stack. Over the next several hours, Willow recounted numerous stories of Xander, Anya, and Oz, inadvertently settling the blonde's unspoken concerns towards the latter. When the last photo had been remarked on, Willow stood to put them away, then paused and held her hand out to Tara.
"Come to bed?" she softly asked. "I know we can't – I just want to wake up with you, if that's okay."
Tara made no verbal response – none was needed. She simply took the offered hand and followed, her heart happy and her mind at rest.
Thursday morning Tara awoke in almost the same position as she had on Monday: lying on her back, one arm pinned to her side under the soft, warm weight of Willow's body. Unlike Monday, however, her first instinct was not to jump out of bed in shock, but to savor every moment. Turning her head, she buried her face in red curls, inhaling deeply the scent of Willow's shampoo. The redhead's nightgown left her shoulders bare to the blonde's caressing fingertips, gently stroking up and down the length of one arm. After several minutes, the redhead began to stir.
"That tickles you know."
Willow half opened one eye to peek curiously at the blonde.
"Connecting the freckles," Tara replied, directing mischievous eyes and a lop-sided grin at the sleepy woman. "There's quite a few – it could take a while."
"It'll take all day – I have them everywhere," Willow remarked casually while arching one eyebrow.
Tara's fingers stilled immediately and her eyes snapped shut.
Everywhere? Oh Goddess – stop thinking about Willow's…everywhere…it's not even 7:30 a.m. and…dear god, it's hot in here.
Tara felt Willow shift, and upon opening her eyes saw that the redhead had propped herself up on her side, one hand supporting her head while she gazed at the blonde with an unreadable look on her face.
"You're still here."
"Why wouldn't I be?" Tara frowned, unsure if Willow was posing a question or a making a statement.
"I thought…when I woke up, I thought it was just another dream, or- but it's real…and you're still here…you didn't leave."
The implication of the words and the expression of uncertainty on Willow's face nearly drove Tara to tears, and she reached out to touch the other girl's cheek.
"I'm not going anywhere, Willow. I shouldn't have left the way I did that day, and it won't happen again. I'm here to stay…for as long as you'll have me."
The two women didn't embrace so much as gravitate toward one another, the emotional tension falling away as they lay against each other. They remained that way for several minutes, simply holding on, eyes closed, breathing in sync. Gradually Tara's fingers resumed their exploration, this time on Willow's shoulder blades, the light touch sending a shiver down the redhead's spine. Arching her back at the pleasurable sensation, Willow gasped when she felt her breasts pressing into Tara's.
There was nothing tentative about the kiss that followed. The moment their lips made contact, both eagerly opened their mouths to the other, tongues meeting, stroking, tasting. Tara grunted in frustration as she attempted to move her trapped arm, desperately wanting to feel Willow under her hands. The redhead somehow sensed what was needed, and began to roll away, only to be pulled back tighter until she was on top of Tara, who wrenched her limb free.
The blonde immediately cried out in pain and sat up, throwing a very startled Willow off of her in the process.
"Tara? I'm sorry- I shouldn't have-"
"Ow-ow-ow," was all Tara could manage as she clutched her arm. She shot an apologetic look at the redhead, whose contrite expression quickly shifted to understanding.
"Oh baby, your arm's asleep?"
Receiving a grimace and a nod, Willow pulled the limb onto her lap and began massaging the muscles, working down from shoulder to hand. When she felt the blonde relax, she brought the hand to her mouth and ran slightly parted lips over each fingertip in turn.
"Can every morning start like this," Tara thought out loud.
"Well, I don't know about the pins and needles in the arm part, but the rest of it would be fine with me."
Tara wrapped her arms around the redhead.
"Mmmm…let's just stay here all day."
"Well I could spend a few more hours here, but someone needs to get to work, and it just wouldn't be as much fun by myself."
Tara groaned and dropped her forehead onto Willow's shoulder.
Stupid damn job…stupid Riley…could've said I was a student, didn't need to work, but noooo.
"I have to stop by Giles' this afternoon, but not for long. How ‘bout I meet you at your office and we can go to dinner…like a real date type dinner?"
As much as Tara didn't want to go back there, she could deny Willow nothing, and she had to admit it was a convenient location for them to meet. An hour later, after a shower, quick breakfast, and a multitude of Willow-kisses, the agent got into her car and drove away.
The day progressed much as Tuesday had; Tara ran errands for several hours, doubling back to the house in time to follow Willow to school. Afterwards, the agent tailed her to Giles' then went back to her pretend office to wait. Her experience there was less awkward than the first time. The other women had apparently decided that she wasn't interesting enough to engage in gossip with, and largely ignored her. Tara left the building at exactly 5:00 and found Willow waiting for her on the sidewalk. They chose a new French bistro for dinner, chatting amiably and lingering over dessert. After dinner they took a leisurely stroll around downtown Sunnydale, stealing furtive glances and innocent touches.
Arriving home shortly after 8:00, both felt a nervous anticipation at being alone again. While Tara made a pot of tea, Willow fiddled with the radio. When she walked into the living room, Tara nearly dropped the tea set, so stunned was she to see the redhead dancing to the rousing strains of Glenn Miller's orchestra playing "In the Mood." As she set the tray on the table, she felt a hand grab her wrist and spin her into the center of the room.
"C'mon Tara!" Willow enthused with a wide grin, taking both the blonde's hands in hers. Soon both girls were giggling more than dancing, and Tara leaned over, hands on her knees as she attempted to steady her breathing.
"What…what's with the Fred and Ginger routine?"
"Practice," Willow stated as her laughter subsided.
"Practice? For what?"
"Oh, I agreed to go to this silly dance tomorrow. Anya – Xander's fiancée – is a USO girl, and I kinda promised I'd go with her. Hey! You could come too!"
Tara's entire body had tensed at the mention of the dance, and she breathed a momentary sigh of relief as Willow explained.
She certainly wouldn't ask me along if – oh god – she can't go – Riley – they won't understand – she could be in danger!
"Tara?" Willow quietly asked, taking a step toward the blonde.
"Don't go," the agent blurted out.
Willow's brow creased and she stopped to look at Tara, who dropped her head down and wrapped her arms around herself.
"I have to…I- Tara what's wrong?"
Willow bridged the gap between them, placed her hands on Tara's hips and ducked her head to catch cloudy blue eyes.
"Come with me?"
"I c-can't, Willow, I'm sorry. I made plans with m-my…brother," the agent choked out the word, hastily adding, "but maybe I'll stop by later – make sure you're behaving yourself with all those G.I.s."
"You don't need to worry about them," Willow scoffed, smiling coyly. "You're the only one I want to misbehave with."
Tara unfolded her arms and draped them over Willow's shoulders as a slow ballad came over the radio. The shrill whine of the air raid siren suddenly pierced the still of the evening, and the music cut off, replaced by static.
"Dammit!" Willow exclaimed, moving to flip off the radio. "I hate that sound! You don't- it is just a drill, right?"
Tara had moved to shut off the lights, and as she peered out into the darkened street, she noticed the neighborhood air raid warden already patrolling by moonlight.
"Just a drill," she confirmed. "It has been a while."
Turning back in the direction of Willow's voice, she let her eyes adjust until she could make out her silhouette, still standing by the radio.
"I liked that song," Willow pouted.
Tara carefully inched her way over, slipping an arm around the redhead's slim waist and taking one of the girl's hands in her own. She started humming softly as she felt cool fingers wrap around the back of her neck. The two moved closer as they danced, cheeks pressed lightly together. Tara began to sing the preempted song, her voice low and soothing.
"You'd be so nice to come home to,
You'd be so nice by the fire.
While the breeze on high sang a lullaby,
You'd be all that I could desire."
Their joined hands parted to roam over backs, shoulders, and arms.
"Under stars chilled by the winter,
Under an August moon burnin' above,
You'd be so nice, you'd be paradise
To come home to and love."
As Tara continued to hum the hypnotic tune, Willow guided their swaying bodies down the short hallway and through the first door. The tune abruptly cut off as the blonde felt soft lips on her own. Blinking in the darkness, it took her a moment to realize they were in her bedroom. She let her eyes fall closed as Willow's tongue licked at her bottom lip, seeking permission. Tara acquiesced at once, but before the kiss could escalate in intensity, Willow drew back.
"Tara," Willow breathed. "I love you."
Not waiting for a response, the redhead gently grazed their lips together, allowing the blonde time to continue or pull away. Somewhere in Tara's mind she knew she should stop. But all of her resolve to wait crumbled as Willow made her declaration, and Tara's body melted into the redhead's arms, thinking nothing beyond the words repeating in her head: she loves me…she loves me…
"I love you, Willow."
The words were barely past her lips before Willow crushed into her, giving their passion release as mouths hungrily sought each other. Tara reached around the redhead's back for her zipper, lowering it and easing the dress off of her shoulders. Willow wriggled out of it as the blonde left a trail of licks down the curve of her neck. The redhead's shaky but determined fingers manipulated the buttons of Tara's skirt and blouse, which were soon discarded on the floor.
Once stripped down to chemises and slips, Willow edged them to the bed and gently guided the blonde onto the mattress. Lying down next to her, the redhead tenderly stroked her fingers down Tara's arm to her hand, which she brought to her lips, kissing the palm before returning it to Tara's side. Continuing on, her hand slowly mapped the blonde's body, trailing down one leg, back up the other, lingering over the stomach before tentatively cupping one full breast, pausing, then seeking out its twin. Moving up the arched neck, over the chin, up one smooth check, across the forehead to the other cheek, and finally to the lips that parted to kiss each fingertip.
Tara, understanding Willow's need to explore, had merely reveled in the sensations while her cradling arm drew lazy circles on the redhead's back. Willow withdrew her fingers, covering Tara's mouth with her own as she rolled partway on top of the blonde, whose legs parted for one of the redhead's.
The blonde gasped the moment Willow's thigh flexed into her, pushing up her slip, and she instinctively bent her own knee to make contact with the other woman. Willow moaned, the ache between her legs overwhelming her. Leaning in to feverishly kiss Tara, she began slowly thrusting her hips forward, feeling the blonde do the same. Their pace quickened as both neared release, staring deeply into each other's eyes until neither could hold back any longer. Tara's orgasm broke over her, and it was all she could do to hold her thigh up against Willow, who came shuddering in waves a moment later.
The redhead collapsed onto the bed, lying half on top of Tara, who smoothed back damp red hair before reaching to pull the covers up over her shivering lover.
"Shhh…sleep, my love," Tara murmured. She began humming their song again, letting the sound soothe the redhead's still heaving chest. After several minutes she felt Willow's body relax and her breathing become heavy and slow.
"I love you Willow," she whispered, unsure if the redhead was conscious enough to hear. "Whatever happens, always know that I love you."
Friday morning Willow woke first, snuggling closer to Tara as her hyperactive brain replayed the events of the night before.
She loves me…and I love her…and she loves me…and she's so…wow…and her kisses…and she sang…and we – are we lovers?…we didn't get all naked…but we…I do believe that counts…mmmm…naked Tara…lovers…Tara's my lover.
Tara opened her eyes just as a full-blown smirk spread over the redhead's face.
"Whatcha thinkin' 'bout sweetie?"
Willow leaned in to kiss the blonde, slowly at first but deepening as both women began to fully wake up.
"That, for starters."
"Mmmm…yummy," Tara murmured. "Been up long?"
"Nuh-uh," the redhead replied, resuming the kiss and letting her hand drift up to caress Tara's breast.
"Um, Willow?" Tara squeaked.
"Much as I'm enjoying this, don't we have to get up?"
"Hmph. You're mean," Willow pouted, sitting up but not moving from the bed. Tara scooted behind her and wrapped her arms around the redhead's chest. Willow's mouth dropped open and she whimpered as Tara began licking her ear.
"Don't worry my love…I'll make it up to you later…say, 5:30?…meet back here?"
"Uhh…god, Tara…I…ohhhh that's nice…but…tonight…dance…Anya…picking me up at 6."
Tara's mind raced as she moved her attention to Willow's neck, eliciting a drawn-out sigh. Okay, technically not playing fair, but it's for the best.
"You could call and cancel," she tempted, her voice low and sultry. "Tell her you're sick – you'll go to the next one."
Tara began gently nipping her lover's neck, following each bite with a long suck. She moved her hands to Willow's small breasts and pulled the slight body back into her, smiling at the stiffening nipples and the deep moan the redhead released. Thinking she may have successfully persuaded the other woman, Tara tensed when she felt her hands pulled away. The redhead maneuvered herself so that they were facing each other, then entwined their fingers together.
"I kinda get the feeling that you don't want me to go to this dance, Tara…and I think I know why."
Before Tara could speak, Willow raised a finger to the blonde's lips and continued.
"I wish it was you I was going with – and I know that you already have plans – I should have mentioned it sooner. But I swear there's nothing going on – Anya's just a friend…well, more like the really annoying fiancée of a friend…but my point is that there's no reason to be jealous."
Tara bit her bottom lip to prevent an untimely laugh and bowed her head in an attempt to appear relieved. Willow brightened immediately and flashed a big grin.
"But just because I said I'd go doesn't mean I have to stay long! So…is it okay?"
Absolutely not, emphatically NO, she thought. But you obviously take a promise very seriously, and I adore you for it. And since I can't persuade you by word or deed, I'll just have to settle for keeping you safe.
"Uh-huh," she said aloud.
The morning was over far too soon, and the redhead left for school, closely followed by Tara. The agent made sure Willow entered her first classroom before she hurried to her car. She knew she was directly disobeying orders – that she was expected to keep close watch on the redhead all day – but she didn't care.
The hell with protocol – they can fire my ass, she thought as she left the university parking lot. At least then I could tell her why she shouldn't be at that damn dance.
Tara marched into her office and strode directly to Travers' door.
"I need to see him – now," she commanded.
Buffy depressed the intercom, but Tara was already through the door before she heard the secretary's voice call out over the receiver: "Agent Maclay to see you sir." The agent sat down without bothering to wait for an invitation. Travers' mouth twitched in the barest hint of an amused smile, and he instructed Miss Summers to hold all calls.
"I assume it must be important for you to barge into my office in such a manner, Agent."
"Yes sir," she replied evenly, not about to apologize.
Travers leaned back in his chair and gestured for her to speak.
"It's about the stakeout tonight," she began, assuming he had already been brought up to speed since his return. At his nod, she continued. "Everything I have discovered about Miss Rosenberg leads me to the conclusion that she is not the Rose, but Agent Finn does not share my belief. The problem is that she is going to be at the dance, and I know Finn is going to take that as proof of her guilt. Now, I know it looks suspicious, but it really is just a coincidence – a friend of hers is a USO girl. I'm concerned that while Finn is focused on Willow, the real Rose and the Brit are going to slip past us."
Tara felt herself getting flustered as she tried to explain the situation without giving away her feelings.
Travers listened attentively, accurately gauging the blonde's agitated state as a personal fondness for the suspect, but not reading any more into it. He let the agent compose herself before he replied.
"Do you know why I gave you this assignment, Agent Maclay?"
"Because you needed a female operative to move into her house?' she guessed, frowning in confusion at the change of topic.
"That was convenient, I'll admit, but no. The reason I picked you is because I've been watching you Miss Maclay. Most agents rely on training – intellect, rules, practicalities. A few depend solely on instinct, but those ones never last. You, Miss Maclay, utilize both. That is a rarity indeed, and when properly balanced make for an agent of the highest caliber. That is why I gave you this assignment."
Tara stared at her boss, who stood and walked to her chair, raising an arm to guide her out of the office. As they reached the door, he stopped and faced her.
"I'll speak to Agent Finn. But now I believe you're supposed to be on surveillance. Oh, Tara…I won't forget how well you've handled this case."
The blonde merely nodded as she left, feeling immensely relieved, and more than a little dazed.
The rest of the day was spent discretely following Willow from class to class, to Giles', and finally back home. As tempting as it was to go in, Tara knew she would not be able to dissuade the redhead from going, and she needed to keep her distance in order to focus on protecting Willow. Shortly before 6:00, a car pulled up in front of the house. The woman she recognized as Anya got out and skipped to the door, which was promptly opened by Willow. Tara inhaled sharply as she took in the sight of her lover, illuminated under the porch light. She wore a simply cut gown, and the agent smiled at the thought that the redhead was not trying to impress any young man at the dance. Despite its simplicity, the shimmering green dress matched Willow's eyes, and Tara knew she had never seen a sight so breathtaking as her gorgeous girl.
The blonde waited until the two had rounded the corner before following. In the parking lot she hastily tied her hair into a loose bun and reached into the glove box for the walkie-talkie she'd been assigned. When her hand fell on the revolver, she paused before loading it and throwing it into her purse along with the radio.
As she walked toward the Lodge, her trained eyes spotted several of her fellow agents at their posts. Stepping inside she saw Willow and Anya make their way through one of three sets of double doors leading into the ballroom. The sounds of the orchestra playing a lively swing tune drifted out into the lobby. The ballroom was well lit, but Tara found that by staying close to the wall she could remain hidden in the shadows. She edged her way to a deserted corner where she could observe most of the main room as well as the doors. A large decorative pillar provided adequate cover as she watched Willow and Anya sit at one of several large round tables scattered around the room. A soldier asked Anya to dance almost immediately, and the agent stared daggers at the man.
Oh, so you'd rather twirl around with that blonde instead of my beautiful redhead?…hmph…guess there's no accounting for taste…hey…what do you think you're doing, sailor-boy?…stop smiling at my girl! At least it's – well, it WAS – a fast song…hey! Watch those mitts, buster!
Tara bristled as she watched Willow dance with the young man, who maintained a gentlemanly distance from the redhead. When they parted after one number, the agent breathed a sigh of relief. For almost an hour it continued – Tara fretting if no one asked Willow to dance, and seething if one did. When she saw the redhead check her watch, she decided to wander over as if just arriving. With luck they'd be out the door in five minutes.
Tara retraced her steps along the wall, and had just reached the doors when the familiar strains of their song began to play. Coming to a standstill, she looked to where the redhead sat and saw the sailor who had first asked Willow to dance approach the table. The conflict on the redhead's face was evident as she tried to beg off. The young man was persistent however, and Tara knew that the women were not supposed to refuse a dance. That knowledge did not prevent her dismay at seeing her love in the arms of another, and from the look on Willow's face it was clear that she wasn't happy about it, either.
Tara was momentarily lost in thoughts of marching out onto the floor to claim her dance, and didn't realize that she had stopped in front of the doors until someone crashed into her shoulder.
"Watch it, luv," the man spat out as he stalked off toward the left side of the hall. Tara glared at his back a moment before his accent clicked in her mind. Following in the direction he'd taken, she spied him easily by his unnaturally white-blonde hair. She came to a sudden halt when she saw him approach a woman holding a small briefcase and wearing a hat decorated with a single large red rose.
It's them – it has to be…okay Maclay, keep calm…need to call for backup…what the hell?…that's…that's the girl from…Melody? – no – Harmony!
The pair anxiously looked around as they talked. Tara felt in her purse for her radio, but did not yet draw it out. She quickly glanced over to the dance floor, freezing as her eyes made contact with the green ones she adored; eyes that blinked in confusion before lighting up along with a smile. Knowing she'd been spotted, Tara raised her forefinger in an attempt to buy herself a minute. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the Brit and the Rose heading for the side door. She ran after them, jerking out the walkie-talkie and calling out "suspects exiting through west doors – repeat, suspects exiting to west." As she reached the doors, she felt a hand on her arm.
"Tara, you made it!"
"Willow, stay here," the agent ordered, turning away.
"What…why…Tara, what's going on?" the redhead frantically asked, increasing her grip on the blonde's arm.
"Not now – just stay inside."
Tara roughly pulled her arm free and ran through the doors, drawing her gun from her bag. The suspects stood not ten feet away and both looked up, startled, as Tara burst into the alley.
"Freeze!" she shouted, raising her weapon and taking a few cautious steps closer. Without hesitating, the blonde man shoved Harmony at the agent and ran, only to be met at the end of the alley by seven more agents with guns leveled at him.
Tara had easily subdued the Rose, who began crying hysterically and whined: "I can't believe that jerk! He said he loved me." Tara waited with the woman until Finn and another agent came to place her under arrest. Before they led her away to join the Brit, Riley turned to nod at Tara.
"Good work, Agent Maclay. I guess you were right about Rosenberg."
As Finn walked away Tara heard a choked cry behind her, and her blood ran cold as she turned and confirmed what she already suspected. Green eyes as big as saucers stared at her in shock.
"Willow- please…let me explain."
Tara took a tentative step towards her love, who backed away in response. The door they'd come through swung open and Anya's head appeared.
"Hey, there you are! What on earth are you doing out – oh! Is this the lesbian? Hi! I'm Anya!"
Tara couldn't respond, too focused was she on the redhead, who avoided the blonde's gaze. After several painfully long moments, Willow quietly spoke in a voice raspy with emotion.
"Anya, please take me home."
"W-willow…wait…please," Tara pleaded as she began to raise her arm to reach out to the redhead, realized it still held the gun, and let it drop lamely back down to her side. Willow hadn't looked at the agent in minutes that seemed like forever to Tara. When at last the green eyes lifted, they could barely focus through the tears pooling in their depths. Again Tara took a half step toward her, stopping abruptly at Willow's whispered words:
"Who are you?"
"NO!" Willow shouted, covering her ears with her hands and shutting her eyes tightly. She shook her head violently before turning suddenly cold emerald slits to the agent. "I don't want to hear it."
The redhead had already run inside before Tara recovered from her shock. She lunged for the door, only to be barred by Anya.
"I don't care who you are," she said, her voice dripping icicles, "but I think you need to leave her alone."
With that Anya spun on her heel and stalked through the door, slamming it shut behind her.
The next morning, Tara couldn't remember leaving the alley. She didn't remember getting into her car. She had no memory of driving anywhere. She didn't recall arriving at Sue's house after midnight. She did not remember crying hysterically as her friend helplessly tried to find out what was wrong. And she did not know when she had fallen asleep on the couch, tucked under a quilt, exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The next morning, all Tara could remember was Willow's strangled sob, the heartbroken look on her face, and the pain in her voice. The blonde sat cross-legged on the sofa, wrapped tightly in the quilt as if trying to convince herself that the tremors wracking her body were the result of the cold.
Willow ran blindly through the ballroom, out the lobby, and was halfway across the parking lot before she realized she didn't know where she was going. As Anya caught up with her and guided her to the car, Willow's attention was drawn to a crowd of people. She stopped to watch a man and a woman being forced into separate cars by a number of men in dark suits.
Then she saw Tara. The blonde was walking from the direction of the alley, and Willow felt her heart drop into her stomach. The woman's movements were jerky as she staggered amongst the cars, and even with the distance and the dark Willow could see that Tara's face was soaked with tears. She saw Tara reach her car and collapse against it, shaking, and it was all Willow could do not to run to her.
"Willow?" Anya's surprisingly gentle voice questioned.
The redhead dropped her eyes and got into the car without another glance.
At home Anya tried to get Willow to talk to her, and for once the redhead believed her friend was genuinely concerned, not just seeking gossip. But Willow found that she could not speak. She just felt…numb. The only sensation that she recognized was the burning in her eyes from the tears that had welled there, but refused to fall. When Anya finally asked Willow if she wanted her to stay, all the redhead could do was slowly shake her head.
Once she was alone, Willow drifted through the house like a sleepwalker, locking the door, shutting off the lights, changing into her nightgown. Minutes ticked by as she stood in the doorway to Tara's room, trying to make sense of the phrases swirling around in her head:
"You were right about Rosenberg."
Finally she shuffled to the bed and lay down, curling herself around a pillow, finding an uneasy comfort in the lingering scent of Tara. At last the tears flowed.
If Tara had been a wreck Friday night, Saturday morning she was a twenty-car pileup with no survivors. Sue had finally managed to get the girl to calm down enough to explain what had happened, and had spent several hours trying to convince her that it couldn't be that bad, but there had been no consoling the agent.
"Look, Tara, you have to face her sometime. At the very least you're going to have to go back for your things," the brunette said as gently as she could. Panicked blue eyes shot up at her before the blonde again buried her face in her hands.
"Well, what the hell do you want me to say? For Christ's sake, Tare, so she reacted badly! Weren't you expecting that? Wouldn't you be shocked, even angry? But maybe she's had time to calm down and you can explain."
Tara shook her head, unable to get the echo of Willow's words out of her mind: "I don't want to hear it".
"She hates me," she proclaimed bitterly.
"You don't know that. And you're never going to find out one way or another until you get off your ass and talk to her. It's gotta be your move, Tare – she doesn't know where you live or work, she doesn't know your phone number." Sue paused, deciding to change tactics. "That's convenient for you, isn't it, Tare? You can just walk away, chalk it up to 'never meant to be' and bail out so you don't have to wade through the muck. Then you can go back to being alone and feeling sorry for yourse-"
Tara flew off the sofa, her fist connecting hard with Sue's jaw, sending the brunette stumbling backwards. The agent cringed in pain, cradling her bruised hand, while Sue's chin seemed none the worse for wear.
"Goddammit…Sue, I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I had to do something to get you off my couch. Nice shot, by the way."
"So you said all that just to-"
"I said it because it's the truth, and you know it. Whatever's going to happen, you can't just avoid it by hiding out here. You need to see her, for both your sakes. And I'd say the sooner the better."
Tara's entire body slumped as she accepted the inevitable. Willow deserved an explanation. And if nothing else, she owed Willow the opportunity to slam the door in her face.
"I…I will, I'll go today," she resolved, the fear still evident in her eyes. Off of her friend's glare, she amended with a defeated sigh, "I'll go now."
Tara had driven directly to Willow's house before her resolve faltered. She sat in her car for a half an hour trying to steady her nerves. She walked purposefully to the front door, where she stood for a full ten minutes before knocking. When it went unanswered for several minutes, Tara thought with a mixture of trepidation and relief that perhaps the redhead was not home. Just as she was about to turn and go, the door opened.
Willow looked a mess. Her hair was disheveled, and the puffy eyes rimmed with dark circles were ample testimony to lack of sleep and crying. She wore the same jeans and work shirt Tara had previously seen, their loose fit seeming to swallow up the small woman.
The two stared at each other for several minutes without actually making eye contact. When Willow stepped aside to allow Tara entrance, the blonde breathed a sigh of relief.
At least I didn't get a facefull of door, she thought, but her gratitude quickly shifted to panic as Willow moved to leave the house.
"W-where are you g-going?"
"I thought you'd want to be alone," the redhead stated, her voice hushed and expressionless, "while you packed. I'll just…take a walk…get out of your way."
"P-p-pack?…Willow…that's not w-why I'm here," the blonde stammered, totally unprepared for Willow's lack of emotion. "I w-want to explain…you don't understand."
"What don't I understand?" The redhead demanded, an edge creeping into her voice. She slammed the door and faced Tara, who looked back at her in surprise. "That you were here to spy on me? That I was under investigation for suspicion of being a Russian spy?"
"Agent Finn came by earlier looking for you. He said you never reported in last night and you weren't at your…apartment, either. Anyway, he told me a little and gave me the standard 'your country would appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone about this little misunderstanding' speech. So what exactly don't I understand Agent Maclay. Is Tara Maclay even your name?"
Tara felt the tears beginning again, and she fought the urge to flee from the house.
"Of course it is…Willow…I…I w-was only trying to h-help."
"Help?! By making me think you loved me? Was that part of your job? Get the suspect to fall for you and see if she talks in her sleep?"
"Is that what you think? That I was trying to seduce you for information?"
"Weren't you?" Willow's voice broke, and Tara made a move toward her, but refrained as the redhead flinched.
"Willow…look at me…please," Tara pleaded softly. The green eyes that met hers were filled with sadness and uncertainty. "I fell in love with you despite my job, not because of it. I should have taken myself off of this investigation the moment I realized I had feelings for you, but I couldn't because I wanted to be the one to prove your innocence. I love you Willow. Whatever secrets I've had to keep, whatever lies I've told…that is the truth. I know you don't have any reason to believe me, but I only lied about my job and what I was doing here."
"What about 'Donnie'?"
Tara cringed, but acquiesced.
"I didn't know he would show up like that. I was afraid he would say he was my boyfriend, and I panicked."
"And your parents? Was any of that true?"
"Every word. I have a copy of my mother's obituary if you want to see for yourself."
The redhead's eyes narrowed at the remark, but one look in Tara's told her that the statement was not made in sarcasm, but as a genuine offer of proof. When she next spoke, Willow's voice was raw with the emotional turmoil of the past day.
"I don't want any of this! I want everything back the way it was before last night. I don't want to know that people have been watching me, suspecting me, lying to me. I want…I want to come home to my roommate who cooks me dinner and talks to me and makes me feel like I can do anything. I want to go to bed with you at night and wake up in the morning in your arms. I want to trust you…trust us. I want to believe it's real.
Tara cautiously stepped closer to the redhead, who remained still, eyes watering, lip quivering. The blonde reached out to take one of Willow's hands, which she raised to her own face, pressing the shaking fingers onto her cheek.
"I know you have no reason to believe anything I say, but…can you believe what you feel, Willow? I can't believe I have any tears left, but they just keep coming, knowing how much I've hurt you. Aren't they real?"
Willow closed her eyes and choked back a sob of her own. Tara next guided the hand to her chest.
"Can you feel my heart, Willow? I think it's going to break through my chest it's pounding so hard. It's been like that since I got here…since I saw you…since I realized I may never get to see you again. Isn't that real?"
When Willow opened her eyes, the tears streamed down, but she maintained her gaze with the blonde, who thought she saw a glimmer of hope shining in the green depths. Tara moved her hand away from Willow's, which remained in place against Tara's breastbone. The blonde took another step forward, ever so slowly leaning her head in, eyes locked on Willow's. She lightly pressed their lips together, then retreated just far enough to speak, her breath warm on Willow's mouth.
"Do you feel it, Willow?" she whispered. "Isn't this real?"
"Oh…Tara…yessss," she hissed, and immediately they were kissing in earnest, hungrily devouring each other as lips, teeth, and tongues met again and again. Caressing hands grew bolder, but when Tara felt Willow's slide down her buttocks and pull at her skirt, she gently pulled away.
"Sweetie…wait. Before we go any farther…I know you have questions…about me…and I want you to ask them now."
"They can wait – not important," Willow hastily replied as she tried to return her lips to Tara's neck.
"Willow," Tara said firmly, taking Willow's hands in her own, "I want nothing more than to make love with you…but it is important. I don't want any doubts hanging over us. I want you to know who you're making love to."
Several hours passed while Tara relayed her life story, beginning with her early childhood spent in Oregon, the daughter of a bank manager. Her father's bank failed following the crash of '29, and the family made do with their savings during the increasingly long stretches when he could find no work. By '34 their accounts were running low, and they took to the road along with countless others. Following the trail of migrant labor, they ended up in Southern California, but by the end of the decade, even those jobs were becoming scarce, and Tara left school to work alongside her mother as a seamstress. Her father had been out of work for almost two years when he disappeared in 1940, leaving only a note that read "I love you; forgive me." Shortly thereafter, Tara's mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which rendered her unable to work and killed her within a year. Tara spent the last of their meager savings on a pauper's burial, then set out to look for her father. Jumping freight trains, hitching rides, walking when necessary, she retraced their journey to Oregon then back, but never found any clue as to his whereabouts.
By late '42 Tara was in L.A., alone and flat broke, but determined. Walking into the first government building she came to, she demanded a job – any job; sweeping floors, doing laundry – she didn't care. She refused to leave the building until someone either gave her something to do or arrested her for trespassing. The building she'd wandered into happened to be the regional headquarters for Military Intelligence. The new Operations Commander, Quentin Travers, was on his way back from a meeting when he encountered the scene in the lobby. He quietly observed the fiery young woman for a few minutes before he approached her.
Tara spent the rest of the day doing odd jobs for Travers – cleaning the office, filing, fetching his lunch. By the end of the week Travers had reassigned his Army Corporal secretary and given Tara the young man's job. After a month the Commander had encouraged her to take the Civil Service Exam, which she excelled on. By the time she'd been there six months, Tara had gone through all of the training to become a civilian covert operative for Military Intelligence, as well as finishing her high school degree at night.
In the spring of '43, Travers was transferred to Sunnydale, and suggested Tara make the move as well. In the absence of her own father, Travers took on a symbolic presence, offering his protégé advice and encouraging her career. Despite the relationship, Travers' frequent and lengthy absences on business and Tara's natural reticence to open up to people prevented a truly familial bond from developing.
Tara's first few weeks in Sunnydale had been difficult and lonely. She'd found a vibrant lesbian scene in L.A. for the occasions when she had the time and inclination to socialize. It wasn't until she met a woman who worked in the mailroom of her new office that she broke into Sunnydale's lesbian community. Sue had quickly become her best friend, the only person privy to both her secrets – that she was a lesbian and a spy.
The only one…until Willow.
As Tara wrapped up her monologue with the recent investigation, Willow shook her head and sighed.
"I still can't believe anyone thought I was a spy," she laughed. "I'd make a lousy spy. I mean, can you really see me being all secret code-y and danger girl and well, we all know how much I babble…and I'm pretty sure that's probably frowned upon…and-"
Tara shifted closer on the couch, her bent knee resting against Willow's thigh. Taking the redhead's face in her hands, she kissed her soundly. Willow sighed happily, a slightly drunk look on her face.
"That's exactly what I thought."
"What? That I babble?"
"That you'd make a lousy spy."
"So you never suspected me?"
"Hm…maybe briefly," the agent confessed, but on seeing the hurt expression quickly added, "but that was before I knew what you and Mr. Giles were doing…and you have to admit you were being kind of sneaky about that."
"I don't have to admit anything," Willow pouted. "Besides," she continued with a glint in her eye, "you'll never make me talk, Agent Maclay."
One side of Tara's mouth quirked into a grin and she crooked an eyebrow at the redhead, whose insides immediately turned to jell-o.
"Wanna bet?" the blonde purred, scooting still closer and trailing her index finger over the inside of one denim-clad thigh.
Uh-oh, Willow thought.
Tara pressed into Willow, her breasts trapping the other woman's arm against her side. Fluttering her lips up the redhead's jaw line to her ear, Tara hissed in her worst German accent:
"Ve have vays of making you talk."
Before Willow could react, the blonde had pushed her back down onto the sofa, where she used her slight size advantage to its full potential, pinning the girl in place underneath her strong legs. Willow made a feeble attempt to fight back but found it impossible, as she was not only giggling too hard, she was also quite happy where she was.
"Now zen…vot shall it be? Hot irons? Thumb screws? Hmmm…maybe…tickle torture!"
"NO! Stop! I'll talk – no more tickling!" Willow cried out.
Tara stared down at her hands, which were still several inches from the redhead's sides.
"I haven't even touched you yet."
"Yeah, but I knew you were going to, so I anticipated," Willow admitted sheepishly. "I'm really ticklish."
Tara collapsed in hysterics on top of Willow, who quickly broke down too. As their laughter subsided, Willow brought her arms around the blonde's back. Tara sighed contentedly before moving to rest her chin on the redhead's chest, looking deeply into her lover's eyes.
"What are thinking about?" Willow enquired softly.
"I'm just astounded at how well you've taken, um, everything."
"I did work for the government too…as you know," she said with a grin. "I know how they do things…and yeah, big surprise, but…it doesn't matter anymore, does it?"
Tara shifted to one side and propped herself up on one elbow. Picking up one of Willow's hands, she absent-mindedly stroked and played with the digits.
"Well, that too, but I actually meant…you know…this – us. I didn't think that before me you'd ever-"
"OH! No…but I did go to an all girls boarding school my last two years of high school, and my roommate Senior year…she was…and I kinda once walked in on her and her, uh, girlfriend…you know…in bed."
"Oh sweetie," Tara laughed, her nose crinkling in amusement. "What happened?"
"Well…see, that's the worst part, cause when I walked in and she saw me, she screamed my name…and her girlfriend was, um…busy…and didn't see me…and she thought…well, it was just…not pleasant."
The women collapsed in another fit of giggles, which sent Tara rolling off the couch onto the floor, pulling the redhead along with her. After a moment, Willow moved to get up off of Tara, but was held fast.
"I like you right here," the blonde stated, her expression suddenly serious.
"I think we'd be more comfortable in a bed," Willow persuaded, easing herself up and reaching for Tara. Gazing into each other's eyes, they walked hand in hand to Willow's bedroom.
Once inside, Willow reached to switch off the light, but Tara's hand on her own prevented it.
"Leave it on…I want to see you."
Willow looked down, feeling suddenly overcome with shyness.
"Tara…you know I…I've never…with anyone."
"Sweetie, it's alright – I haven't either," Tara soothed, wrapping her arms around the redhead's waist. "We'll just take it slow, okay?"
Willow nodded, lifting wide green eyes to blue as she brought her arms around Tara's neck and kissed the blonde, slowly at first, then deepening as mouths fell open for eager tongues. Tara pulled the redhead's hips into her own until they were pressed fully against each other, leg to leg, breast to breast, and they both became acutely aware of the hindrance of clothing.
As Willow released each button on Tara's blouse, the blonde unzipped her own skirt, pushing her slip down along with it and stepping out of both. The redhead took hold of the hem of Tara's chemise and pulled it over the blonde's raised arms. Tara unbuttoned Willow's shirt, inhaling sharply as she discovered her lover's bare breasts underneath.
"I, uh, wasn't planning on going anywhere today," the redhead admitted, self-consciously bringing her arms up to cover herself. Tara gently pulled them away and brought them to her own hips. Running her hands over Willow's collarbones and neck, she kissed her lover lightly.
"That's good, cause I don't plan on letting you go anywhere in the near future."
Willow felt her knees go weak at the raw huskiness of Tara's voice and she hastily unhooked and flung aside Tara's bra. The blonde fumbled with the buttons on Willow's jeans, which the redhead shed along with her panties in one fluid motion while Tara quickly removed her own.
Willow's eyes slowly drifted over her lover's nude form, finally reconnecting with their blue counterparts, back from their own visual inspection. Beautiful, both women thought as they moved to embrace again, kissing fiercely as they clung to each other.
Tara's earlier anxiousness had dissipated over the course of their conversation, but when she felt Willow's body against hers it came back, magnified both in scale and intensity. Unlike her previous nervousness, which had been largely the result of fear, the current of adrenaline now coursing through her was entirely fueled by desire.
The numbness Willow had experienced was gone as well, and she felt bombarded with the sight, feel, smell, sound and taste of Tara. Never breaking their kiss, Willow backed over to the bed, pulling the blonde along with her. When her legs hit the mattress, she yanked back the covers and lay down, propping herself up on her elbows as her eyes locked on her lover's. Tara crawled up over the redhead's body, grinning deliciously. Willow's eyes closed and she dropped back onto the mattress as she felt Tara's breasts gliding over her bare skin. When they reached Willow's own modest chest, both women moaned as their stiff nipples raked together.
Willow opened her eyes to glittering sapphire pools, and she grasped Tara's neck to pull her down for a passionate kiss. The blonde complied gladly, thrusting her tongue into the willing mouth before retreating to nip at her lover's lower lip. The redhead lifted her head and whimpered as Tara pulled away, but dropped it back down when she felt Tara's hand on one breast, firmly kneading. The blonde lowered her lips to the neglected mound, which she sucked into her mouth hungrily.
Willow gripped the sheet with one hand while the other tangled itself into the blonde's thick tresses, holding her in place. The dew between her legs became a puddle as she felt her nipples being pinched and bitten, and she knew she could not hold back her release much longer.
"Tara…baby, please…touch me," she implored, her breath coming in gasps.
The blonde moved to lie next to Willow, snaking one arm under her lover's shoulders and pulling her into a kiss. Her other hand caressed down Willow's chest and abdomen, her fingers threading through damp red curls before grazing over the redhead's clit. Willow's hips jerked and she buried her face in Tara's neck to suck on the sensitive flesh. As her hand reached the source of her lover's wetness, Tara felt the throb between her own legs growing. Parting Willow's lips, she circled the opening with one fingertip.
"Willow…do you want-"
"Uhhh…yessss," Willow hissed, crying out as Tara pushed a finger into her.
Tara paused to ensure she hadn't hurt the redhead before she began thrusting slowly, adding a second finger when Willow's hips started rocking against her hand. Realizing how close the redhead was, Tara curled her thumb up to rub her lover's clit, which immediately sent Willow bucking off the mattress, her body arched and rigid as she came crying out Tara's name.
Willow fell back down, breathing hard, sweat glistening on her skin. Tara brushed her lips over the redhead's panting mouth as she withdrew her fingers and wiped them on the already soaked sheet.
"Are you okay sweetie?"
"Uh-huh," Willow slurred. "Better than o-k…I'm o-s at least…maybe even o-t."
Tara smiled as she stroked the moisture from Willow's brow and cheeks before claiming another kiss from her lover. Once her breathing had regulated, Willow rolled onto her side until they were facing each other, languidly exploring each other's mouths. After several minutes Willow gently pushed Tara onto her back and began kissing down her jaw line to her neck, which arched to allow the redhead full access. Quickly arriving at the blonde's chest, Willow palmed both full breasts while alternating between them with her mouth. Lavishing all her attention on Tara's already painfully erect nipples, Willow reveled in the sounds her lover made as she licked, sucked and nipped at the sensitive buds.
Nudging Tara's legs open with her thigh, Willow rolled in between them as she descended her lover's body, lips and tongue tracing down the blonde's torso. The redhead felt light-headed as she reached soaking blonde curls and breathed in Tara's scent. Parting her lover's folds with one hand, Willow delicately licked at the exposed flesh. Any concern Willow had over her lack of experience disappeared as the blonde's body spasmed under her tongue. Crooking one arm under Tara's thigh and holding it firmly, the redhead dove in with abandon, licking and sucking at her lover's swollen lips.
"Willow…more…need…inside," Tara grunted out her desire, which the redhead promptly fulfilled, thrusting two fingers deep and pumping vigorously as her mouth sought out Tara's clit.
As she sucked the engorged bud, Willow opened her eyes to watch her lover, mouth open, head thrown back in ecstasy, breasts swaying with every thrust of Willow's hand. The redhead felt herself on the verge of coming again at the sight. As Tara screamed her name, Willow moved up to straddle and grind against the blonde's thigh, simultaneously rubbing Tara's clit until they each came again.
Willow collapsed face down next to Tara, exhausted. Immediately missing the physical contact, she threw a heavy arm over her lover's chest, resting her palm on one heaving breast. Gazing into each other's eyes, they barely had time to murmur heartfelt words of love before sleep overtook them.
Sunday passed in a blur of lovemaking, with only brief respites for meals and the bathroom. At some point in the evening Tara confessed her desire to resign her position and continue her schooling. Monday morning, the soon-to-be-ex agent stood outside of Commander Travers' office with Willow by her side for emotional support.
"He'll see you now," Miss Summers announced, and Tara walked through the door with Willow behind her.
"What the- Tara, what it this?"
The blonde turned to look at Willow, who had come to a dead stop just inside the door. The redhead's face contorted as she looked from Tara to Travers, who closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Willow? This is my boss – Quentin Travers."
"Quentin Travers?!" Willow stated, her voice dripping with incredulity.
Tara frowned in confusion, uneasily wondering why the redhead was behaving in such a manner. Her lover's next statement did nothing to clear the confusion.
"Tara, that man's name is NOT Quentin Travers – it's Ira Rosenberg! Tara…that's my Dad!"
Her Dad? Travers is Willow's Dad? Travers isn't even Travers, he's…Willow's Dad? I don't understand.
"I don't understand," Tara concluded.
"Willow, would you mind?" Ira requested, gesturing at the open door, which she nudged shut with her foot, never taking her eyes off of the incomprehensible scene in front of her. "Have a seat, ladies."
"What the hell is going on Dad? Tara, did you know about this?" the redhead demanded, alternating accusatory glances between her father and her lover, who shook her head frantically.
"I believe Miss Maclay is as surprised as you are, dear. Now, if you'll have a seat, I'll explain."
The redhead grudgingly complied, sliding down into a chair and crossing her arms across her chest. She chanced a sideways look at Tara, who continued to stare at her boss blankly.
"I don't understand," she repeated.
"Yes, well, I certainly did not expect to see the two of you here today," he began, sending his daughter a stern look at her loud guffaw and mumbled 'I'll bet.' "And I must insist that what is said in this office is not repeated. My…alternate identity is part of my work- "
"What work?!" Willow interjected. "I thought you were a business consultant for the government, not some top secret spy boss man! How long has this been going on? Does Mom know?"
"I will answer all of your questions if you stop interrupting me…and you need to watch your tone, young lady."
Willow sunk further into the chair until it appeared she might slide right onto the floor. Tara could not suppress a tiny smile at the sight.
Aww…someone doesn't like being reprimanded…oh, but she's so cute when she pouts…that lip…goddess, what I could do with-
Tara jerked back to reality when she realized she was having extremely inappropriate thoughts in front of her girlfriend's father. Neither Rosenberg commented on her blush, but when her eyes darted over to her lover's, Willow raised an eyebrow knowingly. Tara shifted in her seat and tried to focus on her boss' words.
"-several years ago. So they send me to investigate Military Intelligence operations at various sites, make sure everything is running smoothly, no traitors and so forth. It was while I was in L.A. that I met Miss Maclay, and after Sunnydale I'm off to Seattle."
"So…wait a minute," Willow stated, slowly sitting up in her chair and leaning forward as pieces began snapping into place in her mind. "You assigned Tara to investigate me…so…so…you thought I was a spy?!"
Ira's booming laugh startled both young women, who exchanged dumbfounded looks.
"Of course not, honey," he chuckled, wiping the tears from his eyes. "But I couldn't exactly break my own cover to tell them my little girl is no spy. So I did the next best thing – sent my most capable agent to prove it. And it isn't like I had a reasonable explanation for your behavior since you did not feel it necessary to let your mother and I know about your change in studies."
Willow's silent fuming subsided as she reluctantly conceded that her own secrecy had not helped matters. Still…some good came of it, the redhead thought with a smile and a glance at Tara.
"At the time I just thought you needed a change after that Osbourne fellow got married," Ira continued, oblivious to the furtive looks passing between the two girls. "Really, Willow, you could have told us about the…anthropology thing."
The redhead rolled her eyes as her father's dismissive tone told her exactly what he thought of the 'anthropology thing.' Tara, who had remained silent for most of the conversation, finally spoke up about an issue that had long been on her mind.
"So that's how you knew Willow was advertising for a roommate?"
"Actually, I had her mother suggest it."
"But how did you know that I would get there before someone just looking for a room did?"
"Well, technically it wasn't 'advertised,' so there was no chance of other potential tenants."
"What do you mean?" Willow asked, "I placed the ad myself, and saw it in the paper."
"You saw it in your paper, dear. We have a…working relationship with the editors of most of the nation's news sources."
Willow and Tara stared slack-jawed at Ira, both equally amazed at the events that had transpired to bring them together. Tara, in particular felt an acute unease at being part of such a far-reaching organization. While she believed in the work she had done, Ira's disclosure made it that much easier for her to resign. Rosenberg expressed his disappointment, but accepted her admittance that she didn't feel cut out for the spy life.
The conversation turned to the outcome of the case. Ira revealed that the Brit had been most uncooperative, but the Rose had begun singing like a canary before they'd even gotten her into the patrol car. From her story they'd surmised that she-and very likely others-had been seduced by 'Billy,' who had used the women to gain information. The Brit, as it turned out, wasn't even a Russian spy – he was a mercenary, pure and simple, selling his secrets to the highest bidder. Harmony had been a perfect choice. From her desk at Special Info Branch she had access to information from every government office in the country. She had never even set foot in Washington, D.C.
Tara's body slumped between Willow and the bedroom door, held up by one of the redhead's deceptively strong arms around her waist. Willow nuzzled the blonde's neck and slowly removed her hand from inside soaked panties, letting Tara's skirt fall back into place. Bringing her fingers to her mouth, the redhead sucked each finger clean as she gazed into Tara's lidded eyes.
The pair had taken a drive after they'd departed Tara's office, leaving her old life behind her. Willow had insisted that they go by the university at once to pick up an application for the blonde. Over lunch they had perused the course catalog together, with Willow enthusiastically pointing out courses Tara might like and professors to avoid. The blonde had been content to let to Willow ramble on, while her own thoughts drifted to other matters.
She's so excited, planning my future…our future. I love this woman…and she loves me…we're going to grow old together.
Willow stopped in mid-babble when she noticed Tara staring at her with a with an intense expression.
"Take me home," Tara commanded. Willow carefully set down her fork and looked down at her lap.
"You…you want to go back to your apartment?" the redhead quietly asked, her throat thick with disappointment. Tara reached across the table to squeeze Willow's hand.
"That's not what I meant Sweetie," she explained, her voice soothing the fragile redhead. Looking around hastily, she added in a conspiratorial whisper, "I meant take me home and, you know…take me."
Willow smiled and blushed, but her brow remained creased as she looked at her love. She sat silently for a moment, lips pursed, seeming to debate with herself.
"Move in with me," she blurted out. "I mean…move in for real. I…I know you have your own place, and I'm sure it's nice…and…never mind…I know it's too soon…but…you could still have your own room…if you wanted…I just…I want-"
"Yes," came the simple reply, and as soon as they could pay the check they were racing home – to their home. Tara had barely made it through the front door before Willow's hands were pulling off her sweater. They kissed hungrily, unwilling to let go of each other as they staggered in a tangled mass of limbs down the hallway to the bedroom. What little restraint had kept Willow at bay in the restaurant, car, and front yard disappeared the moment the door closed and she pinned Tara against it, lifted the blonde's skirt, and snuck her hand into Tara's already damp panties.
"Wow," Tara said when she could finally form words.
"Well, you did say 'take me,'" the redhead explained, licking the last drops of her lover's wetness off her fingers.
"Mmm…so I did…good for me," Tara concluded. Observing her lover's 5000-watt smile she added, "Good for you too I guess."
"Mm-hm," Willow grinned, running the tip of her tongue over her Tara-flavored lips.
Tara pushed herself away from the door and into Willow's arms, backing the redhead up to the bed. Taking a small step back, she began slowly stripping off her already rumpled clothes, much to Willow's delight.
"Sweetie," the sultry voice broke into Willow's transfixed gaze. "I'm going to want you naked too."
Willow shuddered at the raw lust in the blonde's voice, and hastily began shedding her own clothing under watchful blue eyes. When the redhead was completely disrobed, Tara playfully shoved her down to a seated position onto the mattress. Willow's dream came back to her in a flash as Tara insinuated herself between her lover's legs, breasts at face level for the redhead. Willow licked her lips in anticipation before reaching out with both hands to grip Tara's ass and pull her closer. The blonde gasped as Willow's lips and tongue worshipped every inch of her breasts.
After a moment, Tara placed her hands on Willow's shoulders and pushed her back against the mattress. Willow grinned devilishly at the blonde and started to scoot back, but was restrained by strong hands on her thighs and a shake of the head. Willow's eyes went wide as Tara dropped to her knees and spread her lover's legs further apart.
Before she could fully comprehend what was happening, Willow felt Tara's tongue enter her, and only the blonde's firm grip on her thighs prevented her body from rocketing off the bed. The initial shock passed quickly, and as she relaxed she felt one of Tara's arms release its hold and slide up her firm stomach to her breasts. So focused was she on the sensation of Tara's fingers pinching and rolling her nipple that she didn't immediately notice when the blonde's mouth moved to her clit and two fingers were inserting into her dripping channel. Tears formed and silently fell as she blissfully succumbed to sensory overload. She felt her orgasm throughout her entire body, wave upon wave of aftershocks surging through her and she screamed Tara's name in ecstasy.
Later that night they lay facing each other, naked and sated, lazily stroking each other and fighting off sleep.
"So…are you going to tell your parents?"
Willow groaned and buried her head in her pillow.
"Sweetie…don't you think your Dad's going to think it's…I don't know…odd that I'm still living here?"
"Wellll…it's kinda like he set us up," Willow grinned, then squealed as Tara reached up to tweak a nipple.
"I know, baby…it's just…can we just…be us for a while? I mean…a lot of people aren't going to accept us…and I'm not ready to find out if my parents are some of them. I don't want to keep it a secret…we've had enough of them already…but right now, I kind of like having something that's just…you know…ours. Do…do you get it at all?"
"I do," the blonde whispered. "I love you Willow."
"I love you Tara," Willow whispered, her voice raw. "You're really going to come live with me?" the redhead asked in a small hopeful voice, already knowing the answer, but wanting to hear it again all the same. "For real?"
Tara cupped Willow's cheek and placed a lingering kiss on her lips.
"Yes, my love…for real…forever."
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