Return to All Our Masks Chapter Twelve

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!

"Ah, Virginia." The rolling hills, the clear, humid air... Birdsong even in the cities. Raimey breathed deep, his hands flexing in the pockets of his jeans. He was so close, now. He fancied he could smell her, the sweet doctor. Fresh little Willow. He remembered her scent, of course, and now it was everywhere. After all, he was only a few short miles from the old house she called home. Finally.

The driving had put him off. He wasn't a big fan of driving, Raimey; it bored him. Mindless. Too easy to be hypnotized, taken in by the road. But now he was here, and soon, he'd be there.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't be as soon as he'd hoped. For one thing, there was the trivial detail of the FBI. They were casing the house, of course. Waiting for him. That would be a problem, but not an insurmountable one... when he was ready. But first, he still had that little job to take care of. Tara Maclay.

Tara Maclay.

Now, so near to his unofficial prey, Raimey allowed himself to consider his official one. The target.

Tara Maclay, the blond. She was blond, wasn't she? He remembered that. He remembered... oh, what, now... He remembered a curvy girl, all big eyes and long hair. The daughter of- yes. And Donnie's sister, of course. Donald. Raimey sneered, and then went back to his memories.

"Do you need anything else?"

"No, this is enough. You want it quiet, or splashy?"

"Give it something special, Cole. A message." He smiles, both excited and contemptuous.

"Of course. Speaking of messages, your kid's getting one right now." He gestures towards the door, where a slight figure stands, wide-eyed, bandaged around the neck. He wiggles his fingers. A cruel thing. "Run along, girl, before I give you another... surprise."

"So," Raimey said, drifting casually back into the present. "Daddy's little girl did something bad, did she?"

Although, really. He wasn't that surprised. Daughters of the mob never did have it easy.

The plane was late. Goddamnit, the plane was late.

Buffy hated waiting. And she especially hated waiting in airports. Something about the mass anonymity, the awful melting pot of bad hygiene masquerading as sterility that always seemed to overtake the bathrooms, the faceless voices over loudspeakers... it irked her. Put her on edge. Sitting in the cheap plastic chair closest to the boarding gate, she tapped her toes and pretended away her unease. Her bag, packed in an hour and filled to the brim, made an uneven sort of footrest. In her lap, she held a paperback copy of an Anne Rice vampire novel, the spine uncracked.

After Xander's phone call, she'd checked the database. Not that she'd doubted him, per se, but... it was always nice to know for sure. And yes, it was sure. Cole Raimey was gone, and it wasn't too hard to guess where he was going.

Buffy only thanked god she was due for leave anyway.

Dawn, naturally, had been pissed. But when Buffy mentioned Willow's name, the annoyance had melted into the worry that was so natural now.

"Is she ok?"

"I hope so," Buffy'd said grimly, and that had been that.

Now, sitting impatiently among the melange of other passengers looking to fly cross-country, Buffy wondered if she was doing the right thing. Then, as if to counter the doubt, she wondered if she was already too late.

Feeling kind of sick, the blond looked at the gray carpeting on the floor. She really hated airports.

"So," Willow said, with a small smile. "It's been four days. Sorry you decided to stay yet?" She was sitting across from Tara at the dining room table, the remnants of a scraped-together Mexican-themed dinner between them. The blond's lips twitched.

"N-not yet," she replied. "Especially since I've g-gotten so much more done with the house." Willow laughed, for the third time that dinner. That thought made her happy. And afraid. But mostly happy.

"Yeah, well, points to you. Honestly, I can barely even recognize it. Who knew I had a floor?" Tara smiled outright now, playing with her fork.

"The w-woodwork is beautiful, you should keep it this clean."

"Hell, the only way that'd happen is if I kept you around," Willow tossed out without thinking. Then, in the long pause that followed, she felt herself blush. The pause was nearly, nearly awkward... but somehow not, too.

"Well," Tara said finally, her face reddish, and then a clap of thunder cut off anything she'd been about to say. Willow jumped despite herself, and then glanced at the ceiling as if she could see through it.

"Startled me," she said, sheepish.

"Me too."

"It's a good thing I was never afraid of thunder, though," Willow continued musingly. Then, looking down, "One of the few things, I guess, right?" Tara didn't answer, but tilted her head. Encouraging. Swallowing, Willow kept talking.

"My dad used to say that thunder was the laughter of God. Then, when I grew up enough to find my own religion, I liked that idea so much that I'd tell myself the Goddess just heard a dirty joke. Or, no, I wouldn't say that; my friend Buffy did. I was way too sheltered to think of dirty jokes."

"I like that," Tara offered, as another roll of thunder cracked across the sky. "I a-always loved stories l-like that. Never did hear any growing up, though." There was a sadness there, well-hidden, but Willow picked it up anyway. Years of training weren't for nothing, after all, were they? She leaned forward, her hair falling across her cheeks.

"Didn't you?"

"No," Tara said softly, dropping her eyes. "All my childhood stories were scary ones, and I didn't like those."

"I used to love ghost stories," Willow tried. "Did you have nightmares?" The blond shook her head, a funny sort of smile twisting her mouth.

"They weren't ghost stories... and they always came true." Willow noted that her stutter was practically gone. And that, no matter what she said about no ghost stories, there was something haunted in those blue eyes.

"I know what that's like," she said, very quiet. Tara looked up sharply, and Willow could see the struggle on her face: hide, or stay. It was, after all, a struggle that Willow herself dealt with almost every day. "When the monsters are real."

A silence.

"But there's enough monsters out there already, without us bringing them into the room," Willow added, standing. She felt strange, now. Stronger. Almost... well, almost like her old self. As if seeing even the barest shadow of Tara's pain, so different and yet so alike her own, had shifted something in her. Something that had been asleep for far too long.

"You're right," Tara said, naked relief in her voice. "M-movie?"

"Sure. Let me get the dishes."

And when they sat down to Practical Magic, and Tara's hand brushed against Willow's reaching for a pillow, the redhead almost jumped out her skin with the realization that she'd taken her gloves off to wash the plates... and that Tara hadn't even flinched.

Continue to All Our Masks Chapter Fourteen

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