Return to All Our Masks Chapter Four

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!

"Dr. Rosenberg, it's good to see you again." Agent Karen Henderson automatically held out her hand for Willow to shake, and then quickly withdrew it. Willow gave a small, sheepish smile, and gestured to one of the two chairs on either side of the table.

"Sit down, won't you?" Once seated, the two women shared a moment of necessary silence as they glanced down at the laminated menu slips in front of each seat.

"You ladies ready to order?" Willow and Henderson looked up at the gum-chewing young man with the little plastic clipboard, ballpoint pen poised above it.

"The Reuben, please," Willow said. "And a Coke."

"I'll have a salad, thanks," the other woman said, offering the waiter her menu. Willow did the same, and then folded her hands on the table.

"So, why am I here?" Agent Henderson, tall and dusky, gave a quick, appreciative smile before her face fell back into a serious mien.

"Straight and to the point, Doctor."

"Yes, well, that hasn't changed, at least." Henderson coughed, the air suddenly becoming tense. Willow met the other woman's dark gaze, and knew they were both thinking the same thing.

"Off the record," Henderson said quietly, "how've you been? It's been over two years since I saw you last." Willow shrugged.

"Well, after I stopped practicing, your people didn't have much need for me. There wasn't a reason to interact."

"That's not what I meant, Dr. Rosenberg. I'm not trying to be forward or intrusive. I'm not a fed here, ok? I saw what that bastard did to you."

"I know," Willow said quickly, refusing to drop her gaze. "Thank you for your concern, Agent Henderson. I'd be grateful if you'd tell me why it is you called me. Is there a case you'd like me to look at?"

"Dr. Rosenberg," the darker woman began, "you were- are- one of the most talented psychiatric profilers we've got." She held up a hand to block Willow's protest, continuing briskly. "True, you never fully committed to working for the FBI, but your work has helped put away people who might never have been caught, and helped heal those who might have spent the rest of their lives locked up inside a mental asylum because no one felt like giving a damn whether they lived or died, as long as the ‘justice system' said they were in good hands." Willow laughed, but there was little humor in the sound.

"Thanks for the praise, Agent Henderson. What's the other shoe?"

"I'm not praising you, Doctor." The FBI agent paused as the lanky youth with the gum placed their plates in front of them and ambled off. Picking up her fork, Henderson stared Willow straight in the eye. "You were one of the best, and even you couldn't get through to Cole Raimey."

Willow felt her heart skip a beat, her breath suddenly freezing against the lining of her lungs.

Henderson went on.

"I don't want to drag you through that again, Dr. Rosenberg, but it's my job to make sure what happened three years ago never happens again, and my job isn't always pretty."

"What are you saying," Willow asked, her voice a numb whisper.

"I called you last week because there was a ritual murder in Maine and my team was interested in having a criminal psychiatrist take a look at the profile Quantico spit out."

"Yes, I remember," Willow said, her throat feeling very dry. She was filled with a sense of foreboding so intense that her heart seemed to clench with it. Reaching for the glass of water on the table, she took a sip. "I still have the file you sent."

"I'd already arranged to meet today to discuss that case," Henderson went on, "but now that file is on the backburner. We just got word from Riverbend Max. Cole Raimey escaped last night. We don't know how, or don't know who's helping him.... But it doesn't take a degree in the psychology of the criminal mind to figure out who he's going to come for." Agent Henderson closed her mouth, watching the redhead, waiting for her to speak.

But Willow Rosenberg, successful novelist and retired-in-theory criminal psychiatrist, did not say a word.

When the water glass she'd been holding crashed to the floor and sent shards of glass skittering across the cheap, flatted floor, she didn't even flinch.

Tara straightened, one hand pressed to the small of her back.

"Goddess, grant me patience," she muttered, surveying the newly vacuumed kitchen. Turning, she glanced out the window and nearly jumped out of her own skin.

Willow Rosenberg, face as white as newly fallen snow, was striding up the walkway that led to the front door, her body cutting through the air like a knife blade. Behind her was a tall black woman with a steely face and, more importantly, a gun.

Oh, it was concealed, of course, but Tara's well-trained eyes immediately picked out the telltale bump and pull of a shoulder holster.


And not just any cop, she realized instantly, her fingers clamping down on the handle of the vacuum cleaner. This woman stank of federal agent.

Calm down, Tara. You've got nothing to worry about. You haven't given anything away.

And she would continue to not give anything away. Her life, after all, somewhat depended on it. Just a little.

That intimidating front door slammed open, and quick footsteps brought both the redhead and the fed into the kitchen.

"Get out," Miss Roseneberg - no, Willow - ordered, and Tara was happy to oblige. Dropping the vacuum cleaner, she walked swiftly towards the doorway that led into the hall, head down. A hand shot out and caught her shoulder, stopping her midstep. It was the fed.

"Who's this? I thought you said you lived alone?"


"She's nobody," Willow broke in, taking the words right out of Tara's mouth. "A housecleaner, that's all."

"Is she working here permanently?"

"For now, yes." Tara shrank away from the hand that still rested on her shoulder, calculating the distance from the door down the hall to where she was now. She let herself fold inward, putting on the air of the meek, frightened girl as she gauged the speed it would take to make a run for it and get outside before the fed or the redhead could catch her.

"You're fired," the fed told Tara abruptly. Tara almost choked with her surprise, staring at the black woman. And then, her surprise became absolute shock when Willow stepped forward, knocking the fed's arm away from Tara's shoulder and sliding neatly between the two women.

"No, she's not."

"Dr. Rosenberg, she's a security risk." Doctor?

"Only if the routine she follows provides Raimey with access into the house," the redhead stated coolly, and with a calm that Tara found amazing considering the ashen condition of her complexion. "You said your people will be set up 24-7, right, Agent Henderson? So it shouldn't matter if she continues to do her job." The fed, Agent Henderson, gave a short sigh.

"Fine." Directing her attention at the silent and wide-eyed Tara, she spoke briskly. "You don't leave without the say-so of either myself or one of my agents." Tara's mouth opened, but before she could speak, the taller woman went on. "Unless you get out now, consider yourself under quarantine."

"Agent Henderson, this is my house, and I make the rules," Willow said, her voice far colder than it had been a minute ago. When the federal agent replied, her own voice was much quieter.

"I'm sorry if I'm offending you by taking charge of this situation, Doctor, but I'm sure that no one is more aware than you are of how dangerous it is for you right now. If my methods seem harsh, that may be true, but I am trying to keep you alive." Tara felt an odd lurch in her chest, and she found herself speaking, no stutter at all.

"Excuse me," she said, stepping out from behind the slender redhead, "but what the hell is going on?" There was a moment of silence, and then the fed began to speak as Willow's mouth thinned to a hard line.

"I'm Agent Karen Henderson, FBI. I'm in charge of a case regarding a man named Cole Raimey, and part of that involves protecting the doc, here. You were, no offense, a bit of a chink in the plan. I'm sorry for snapping at you, Miss..?"

"Maclay," Tara said slowly. "Tara Maclay." Cole Raimey. Cole Raimey.

It can't be...

"Miss Maclay. But you've got a choice, it appears," she added, giving Willow a hard look. "Either leave now, or stay and keep Dr. Rosenberg company while we try to catch this bastard."

Continue to All Our Masks Chapter Six

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