Return to All Our Masks Chapter Three

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!

"So how'd it go?"

"I kicked her out," Willow replied, pinning the phone between her ear and shoulder as she tipped some oregano into her spaghetti sauce.

"You what? Willow, that was-"

"And now I have to worry about her prancing around here while I'm out, because she's coming back on Monday." There was a moment of silence.

"Did I miss something?" Willow sighed into the phone, sniffing the pot of sauce and wrinkling her nose before adding another leaf.

"No... She talked me out of firing her." The woman on the other end gave a quick, disbelieving laugh.

"She talked you out of firing her? My god, Will, you're slipping. Back in the day, nothing short of waltzing in panties-less would've made Willow Rosenberg change her mind."

"Yeah, well, I just felt bad for her, ok? She had the big eyes and the stutter, and I just..."

"Oh. My god."

"No!" Willow interrupted her friend before the damning sentence could escape. "Nothing like that!" Exactly like that. "I'm not heartless, you know, Buff. I'm not stone."

"Pretty damn close," Buffy Summers muttered, "ever since... Shit, I'm sorry. You know me, not big with the thinking..." Willow closed her eyes and shook her head.

"It's ok," she said. "I... I'm ok, Buffy. It's in the past. I don't want people to act like I'm going to break if they-" She broke off, and swallowed. "If they talk about it." And even as she insisted that she wasn't as fragile as she seemed, Willow couldn't avoid the fact that her very throat had closed up to keep her from speaking, as if the sound of her voice would transport her back in time. Three years back, to be exact.

"So, this girl is a smooth talker, huh?" Buffy's voice was lighter, but there was an underlying carefulness to it that made Willow want to scream. "Is she hot?"

"That has nothing to do with anything."

"I'm so sure."


"She's gorgeous, isn't she? A sexy maid! Man, Wills, sometimes I wish I were gay... You can make her wear that little French costume thing, can't you? With the apron and the-"

"Buffy! I don't want to talk about- about Miss Maclay!" Buffy fell silent at the actual anger in Willow's voice, and then harrumphed.

"Well, fine. Be that way. But if I bring up a guy any time in the future," she went on, "I do not want to hear about it! If you won't let me tease you, I get the same rights." Buffy didn't sound mad at Willow's outburst, and Willow knew that was because she wasn't mad. Buffy was very good at 'mad', but she was also very good at 'friend', and somehow the fact that she could so easily overlook Willow's anger was both wonderful... and awful. Willow sighed again and turned on the water for the noodles.

"Right," she agreed. "You know, I wouldn't even have told you about this, if Xander hadn't called you."

"I know. I'm always the last to know everything around here."

"That's probably because you're not 'around here'," Willow retorted. "It's been a long time since college, Buff. What with you living across the country and all, it's kind of hard to keep in touch." There was a pause, and Willow felt bad. "I'm sorry, I'm just snappy tonight. I'm... a little on-edge."

"A little? Je-sus, girl." They laughed, and there was a tender togetherness in the laugh that made the cluttered kitchen seem just a little brighter. Goddess, I miss her, Willow thought to herself, for once allowing herself to close her eyes and see Buffy's face. She could imagine the blond girl as if they were standing right beside each other: the tan skin, the green-gray eyes, the wide, siren's smile. And then, Buffy made a tsking sound in her throat, and Willow's image of her broke apart and melted into the blackness of her own eyelids. "I gotta go, Will. I'm sorry. Duty calls."

"Yeah," Willow said dryly. "Go save the world."

"All in a day's work," Buffy said, mock-stoically. "And hey, don't make fun. L.A.P.D. ain't just a job. It's a career."

"You just like it 'cause you get a gun."

"Whatever you're trying to insinuate," Buffy cried loudly, over Willow's laughter, "I have no idea what you're talking about!"

"Ok, sure. Don't shoot any dogs this time."

"And on that happy note..." Buffy hung up, and Willow gently set the telephone down on the counter as she stirred her spaghetti sauce. It was red and thick and smelled heavenly, but for an instant, Willow couldn't even imagine eating it.

"Tara? Tara, is that you?" She's hiding in the closet (one of many), and the footsteps are getting closer. Her breath comes faster, her hands clenching in the fabric of her shirt as she tries not to make a sound.

"Tara, darlin', don't be shy. Come out, come out, come out!" It's Eddie, the tall one. He's older than the rest of them, but not as high in the ranks as, say, Donnie. "We're not gonna hurt you, baby girl."

She shuts her eyes, and then instantly opens them again. Somehow, the darkness behind her lids is much more frightening than the darkness of the closet.

"We just wanna help you," Eddie continues. They're banging on the walls, now, just making noise. The house, as huge as it is, echoes with their sounds. "Your daddy finds out what you are, he'll kill you. We just wanna prove to him that you're normal, Tara. Don't you wanna be normal?"

"I am normal," she whispers, so softly that she herself can barely hear the words.

"C'mon, sis." It's Donnie, and that is terrible. Terrible that he is out there, with them, wanting... Wanting...

"Listen to your brother, Tara! He wants what's best for you, too! You don't want your dad to know you're a fucking dyke, do you? Little lesbo gonna get her ass kicked!"

Dyke. Lesbo.

She doesn't even know what these words mean, and yet they send a shiver of nausea into the pit of her stomach.

"We don't want queers in this family," Donnie says quietly, and he's right outside the closet, now. She knows that he knows she's there. She knows it with every fiber of her being. Terror loops around in her mind on an endless racetrack, whirling faster and faster until she's dizzy with it.

"We'll show you how normal people do it," Eddie adds, very soft now. "We'll turn you right."

"Boys! What are you doing? Have you got any idea how loud you're being?!" It's Melissa, who is older than all of them and still pretty enough to make them listen to her. "Get yourselves downstairs. Mr. M is talking business, and he doesn't need any distractions!" This, of course, destroys any tidbit of rebellion any of them might have left, and Tara hears them amble casually- but quickly- off down the hall and down the stairs. Melissa follows them, her footsteps lighter than theirs. Carefully, Tara steps out of the closet. Safe.

Tara opened her eyes soundlessly, transitioning instantly from sleep to waking. She looked up at the bare, cracked ceiling of her motel room. The dream, which was more like a memory, was already fading, but she thought she could hear the echoes of Melissa's voice. She would be almost forty now. Pretty, young Melly, who was only twenty-five when she effectively saved Tara's hide that day all those years ago. I'm older than she was, Tara found herself thinking, and the thought shocked her a little. It was true. At twenty-seven, just over half her lifetime had passed since she hid in the closet while the boys hunted for her.

Tara wondered vaguely why Melissa had been there in the first place. She wasn't family. She'd been someone's girlfriend, Tara supposed. Had to have been. She hadn't lasted though, if Tara recalled correctly. The last time she'd seen Melly had been little over two months after the day in the hall.

And, of course, that made her wonder if pretty Melissa had lived to be almost forty at all.

Tara rolled over, hugging one of the two pillows to her chest. She stared out the small window across from the bed, her eyes dry, her heart feeling very hard. It doesn't matter if Melissa got out or not, because I did. I got out. Tara let out her breath, eyes seeking out the tiny, distant spots of light moving across the sky: planes, heading for the airport in Richmond.

She watched them blink across the night, until, one by one, they were gone.

Continue to All Our Masks Chapter Five

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