Return to All Our Masks Chapter One

All Our Masks

Author: Jacks aka WiccanHandprintz
Rating: PG-13, might change later
Disclaimer: Neither Willow, nor Tara, nor anybody else recognizable from the Buffyverse belong to me. The story itself has a good helping of angst in the beginning and will have some action of both the dangerous weaponry and the gay lovin' kinds.
Feedback: YES, please!

"I really don't think that's plausible, Harry," Willow said into the phone, eyes scanning the monitor screen in front of her. "I've already killed Melissa off."

"All I'm saying is, you need to fix this ending. Your books are getting predictable."

"Predictable?!" Willow's attention was snatched away from the computer screen, and she swiveled her chair to reach across her desk for the soda on the coaster there. "I hardly think having Warren be the killer was predictable. You said it yourself, you thought-"

"That's not what I meant," her editor interrupted. "The stories are good, the writing is excellent, the plotlines don't have holes... it's just that you're kind of getting a reputation for no happy endings, sweetheart, and that's not good. You want to switch it up a bit."

"You know how I work," she protested, turning back to the last chapter of her current novel. "It's not like I plan it out like this. They just... end."

"Willow. Listen to me. All I'm asking-"

"Listen to you? Why is everyone saying that to me? What am I, deaf?" Harry coughed, sounding uncomfortable.

"I don't know what that was supposed to mean, and frankly, I don't really care. Your job is to write. My job is to make people read what you write. So if you want our jobs to work out together, all happy-like, then you will listen to what I am telling you, and change this ending." Willow gave an irritated sigh.

"Fine. I'll work on it. I have to go, Harry, I have a visitor coming in," she checked her watch, "half an hour."

"That's eight o'clock, where you are. Who's coming to your house at eight AM on a Saturday?"

"Some girl Xander found. Apparently she cleans."


"Yeah. Should be fun. Also, I'm meeting with Karen Henderson on Monday. From Quantico?"

"Mm, right. I keep forgetting about that part." She laughed a little.

"Much as you like to pretend otherwise, writing is not my only profession."

"For now, Rosenberg. For now."

"Yeah, all right. Call me when you've got this worked out, ok?"

"Sure." She hung up, putting a finger to the computer screen and reading what she'd written.

It seemed so hard to imagine. That it was over, you know? I thought... I guess somehow I always thought she'd come home. I put my head in my hands, unable to cry, unable to stop seeing her face.

I should have known Warren would come for us.

I should have known I wouldn't be able to stop him. Not this time.

Willow sighed and closed the document, pushing away from her desk. She stood, smoothing her soft jeans and retucking the hem of her green button-up shirt. Walking into the bathroom, she splashed her face with warm water and blotted it carefully, dabbing at the corners of her eyes. She wore no makeup, least of all this early in the morning. Still, she felt a nagging kind of guilt, as if some part of her was just a little annoyed at her decidedly negative expectations of the 'visit' to come.

Willow shook her head, exiting the bathroom and her pale, accusatory reflection.

Show time.

She didn't really want to knock on the door. It seemed like it was a door that should have a knocker, one of those big, ornate brass lion heads or something. Tara smiled at the thought, which helped take away some of the nervousness that wracked her body. She eyed the door again, taking in the height, the thickly carved wood, the giant frame of old Victorian-style housing that the door sat in. It was a beautiful house, she had to admit. At least, from the outside. The young man who had answered her ad had described the inside of the house as... somewhat less than beautiful. Tara swallowed, straightening her back. Do not let yourself be intimidated by a door, Tara. Chastised by her inner self, Tara slowly raised a hand and let her knuckles fall against the wood.

Somehow, the touch of that door sent a tingle through the bones of her hand straight up to her collarbone, and she shivered a little.

Before she could knock again, the door swung open. Tara's mouth opened, and stayed open for a moment. The woman standing in the doorframe was not exactly what she'd expected, to say the least.

Red hair, shiny and lustrous, fell to her chin in a chic bob that nonetheless looked as if it hadn't met a stylist in quite some time. Huge green eyes stared warily out of a creamy-skinned, delicately featured face, complimented by the emerald Oxford the woman was wearing. Tara blinked, noting the way the woman's arms went from the door to wrap around her own abdomen protectively, emphasizing both the slenderness of her frame and the careful, aloof expression on her face.

"H-hi," Tara said quickly, covering for her momentary speechlessness. "My n-name's Tara Maclay. I'm the cleaning lady?" She hated the fragility she heard in her own voice, hated the stutter and the way the last sentence turned itself into a question all on its own. Her eyes dropped instinctively, staring at the woman's old sneakers.

"Yes," the redhead said. "Xander called you. I'm Willow Rosenberg. Come in." She stepped back just enough to let Tara and her bag slip inside, and then the door closed firmly. Tara's eyes darted back to the closed door, and then she steeled herself and smiled at Willow Rosenberg.

"Mr. Ha- Xander- told me you're a writer," she tried. The redhead's expression did not change. "I underst-stand that you'll probably w-want your privacy."

"Yes," Miss Rosenberg said shortly, turning to walk down the hallway. Tara followed, glancing with raised brows at the clutter and mess. The redhead stopped abruptly, and Tara froze. "I'll be spending most of my time in my office, if I'm at home. Please knock before entering, and if I say to leave, don't ask questions." Tara nodded, wanting to frown, but not quite daring.

"I'll be very discreet, Miss." Willow Rosenberg gave a small nod, and then a little sigh.

"Help yourself to food or something if you get hungry," she added, and Tara thought she sounded a tad bit lost. Almost as if the script, after laying down the ground rules, had ended, and now Miss Rosenberg was just winging it.

"Thank you. I'll t-try not to get in your way." Tara's gaze dropped to the other woman's hands, and her brow furrowed a bit when Willow gave a visible flinch. Her hands were encased in long black gloves, which Tara thought was sort of odd, given the heat outside. Still, it was obvious that her boss was uncomfortable, maybe even threatened, and Tara was very well-versed in feeling both. She dipped her head, lifted her bag, and backed away. "I'll just g-get started, then," she said. The redhead nodded again, and pointed vaguely back down the hall.

"Let me know if you need anything," she said, walking swiftly away in the direction she'd pointed in. The offer had been profoundly insincere, Tara knew, but she wasn't insulted. It was clear that Miss Rosenberg was not fully approving of this whole situation, but Tara didn't really mind. After all, no matter how strange, or how beautiful her employer was, Tara couldn't afford to forget her reasons for coming here in the first place.

A place to work. To make a living.

To hide.

Continue to All Our Masks Chapter Three

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