Return to All Our Masks Chapter Five

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!

Leave now. Get out. Come on, Tara, grab your things and get the hell out of here!

She looked at Willow, standing there with her gloved hands clenched into fists at her sides. The redhead's eyes were completely, studiously blank.

"I..." Make a choice. Make the right choice. You cannot stay here!

That pale, delicate face, so carefully expressionless.

"Well, Miss Maclay?" Tara felt her heart racing inside her ribcage, her breath turning ragged as the world tipped a bit and her equilibrium toppled. Long as you keep your mouth shut, babe, you just might survive.

"I'm staying."

She heard the words as if someone else had spoken, and Tara had a momentary sense of complete disorientation. Her eyes flicked from the room to the fed before finally landing, locking, on Willow's unfathomable green stare. Her breath whooshed out in a silent torrent, and Tara's heart rate slowed at last.

"Fine," Henderson said, and Tara jerked her gaze from the redhead's to watch the agent warily. "You two just stay inside for the time being, ok?" She reached out as if to put a hand on Willow's shoulder, and the shorter woman flinched away. Henderson's gaze softened. "We're going to get him, Doctor," the fed assured the redhead. "Don't worry."

"I'll stop worrying when you show me a body," Willow replied flatly, and there was something in her voice that sent chills down Tara's spine. A sort of heaviness seemed to settle on Tara's soul, then, and the corners of her mouth tightened. What am I doing? Then, she swallowed hard, and reminded herself. You committed to this path, T. There's no going back now.

"I've got to brief my team. There'll be an agent staying in the house with you if you want, and we'll be stationed outside."

"One stranger in my house is enough," Willow said, glancing briefly at Tara. "For now, I don't think a live-in fed is necessary." Her voice was tight, and there was an unnerving mixture of fear and resolve in her green eyes.

"I hear it's all the r-rage in Europe," Tara found herself saying, the urge to break the tension almost as strong as the urge to remove herself from the situation entirely. Both other women turned to look at her, silent. Tara blushed, mentally kicking herself for even trying to speak. Shut up and listen. Watch. Don't get involved, don't get tied down, and most of all, don't make stupid jokes!

And then, the redhead's lips twisted in an oddly sweet smirk.

"Yeah, well, I never did like Paris. Too many naked drunks." She sounded, if not exactly light-hearted, at least a little amused. Tara smiled at her before she could help herself, but immediately wiped the smile away as Willow's face hardened back into her mask. It appeared as if the other woman recognized the dangerous ground they were treading on just as much as Tara herself did.

"All right. I'll check in with you later, Dr. Rosenberg. Miss Maclay." Agent Henderson tipped an invisible cap at them, and left the room. The two women listened to the sound of her shoes clipping down the hall, and then heard the door open and close.


Willow looked at the blond woman, her mouth still feeling strange from the unaccustomed half-smile. Tara's eyes shifted away from her gaze, and the blond bit her lower lip. Willow's own lips parted as she tried to think of something to say, and then she shook her head.

"I don't know why you're still here, Miss Maclay, but as far as I'm concerned, your job hasn't changed."

"You c-can call me Tara," she said, tilting her head. She looked the very picture of a wholesome sort of angel, and something
in Willow gave a sudden little squeeze. Right before something else, which had been lurking just out of sight since their encounter on Saturday, wormed its way into Willow's mind.


She met the other woman's big, guileless blue eyes, and Willow realized something for the first time; something she had missed in their first meeting, perhaps because of the obvious nervousness her new cleaning lady had displayed: she could see nothing behind those eyes. Not fear, not annoyance, not humor.


Willow drew in a breath, the familiar mistrust and anxiety mixing with something new and vaguely unsettling: disappointment.

"Please go about your work," she said quickly, casting her eyes around the kitchen before moving for the door. "I'll be in my study."

Willow strode towards her office at a steadily increasing speed, and she was almost running by the time she actually pulled the door open. Shutting it as quietly as she could without losing any time, she pressed her back against the wood and sank to the floor, resting the back of her head against the bottom panel.

I'm trapped in my own home with someone I can't read. I'm a goddamn mental health expert, and I can't read her!

Of course, you've been trapped in this house for a lot longer than just now, Wills, you know. And as for the lovely Tara Maclay, well, we all have our little secrets, don't we? You have your little secrets, too, Willow-my-love. And can anyone read them in * your* eyes?

Willow stared across her study, her blank, cold, closed-off gaze resting flatly on the opposite wall.

That's right, her inner self said smugly.

"Besides," Willow said aloud, mostly unaware she was doing so, "this is all my fault."

Like always...

"I mean, who else invited her in?" That made her giggle. Like a vampire. Just like a fucking vampire, right? Got the garlic? She laughed to herself before clapping a hand over her mouth, horrified at the tinge of hysteria she heard there. Willow hissed out a breath, angrily stopping that train of thought. Get a hold of yourself, girl! You are not this weak!

"No," Willow declared suddenly, this time fully aware of the sound of her own voice. The hysterical little-girl-Willow shut up at once, the edge of madness she'd felt knocking at the corners of her mind backing down in the face of this new strength. "I'm not." She stood, going to her desk and opening the bottom drawer, pulling out its only contents.

And if Miss Tara Maclay can't be trusted, that's not a problem. Because I am *not* going to be afraid forever, and I am sure as hell not going to be a victim again. With a much steadier touch than a moment before, Willow's gloved fingers ran over the smooth, shiny barrel of the gun in her hand as she allowed herself the luxury of feeling something she'd not felt in years: power.

Once the redhead was gone, Tara let herself sink into one of the kitchen chairs, stretching out her legs with a sigh.

You've really done it now, she thought to herself, caught somewhere between fear, uncertainty, disgust... and excitement. Cole Raimey. It has to be the same one. It has to be! The FBI agent had said something about protecting Willow, so that must mean that Raimey had some kind of vendetta against the redhead. A reason to come after her.

Maybe that's why she's so tense all the time? Tara shrugged. No matter. The point was, Raimey would be coming here. Raimey would find her.

Part of her was screaming at the thought, screaming so loudly that she felt as if her throat should hurt. But another, stronger part was calculating, considering...

She was risking everything, Tara knew. Everything she'd already risked so much to gain. Which, really, was only one thing after all. Freedom.

But if this worked, this wild, crazy, mad idea that had slid into her head sometime around when the fed offered her a way out of this taut, haunted place... If this worked...

Tara's lips curved in a slow, crooked smile. It was the smile of a creature that should have been too wounded to stand, but was somehow able to fly.

And Willow.

The smile faded at once, and Tara felt a frightening drop in her stomach. Honestly, Tara, you don't even know this woman. And it's obvious she has her own baggage.

But can I really...?

Just keep your distance, and keep your mouth shut, remember? It'll all be fine. The feds are here, after all... And so Tara breathed out, and let herself begin the process of planning out this insanity, each thought tinged with an unfamiliar glint of hope.

If, in the back of her mind, the redheaded Willow Rosenberg's fragile, steely features refused to quite disappear into memory, Tara did not acknowledge the fact.

Continue to All Our Masks Chapter Seven

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