Return to All Our Masks Chapter Fourteen

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!

In less than a millisecond, Willow's heart went from breakneck speed to a dead stop. Then, the blood was pounding hard enough to echo in her ears, and she lurched backwards to the point of nearly falling over the couch arm. Awkwardly swinging her legs to the floor and pinioning herself around, Willow stumbled around the edge of the sofa until the thick plush arm was between her and Tara. The blond sat, ramrod straight, still as an oil painting.

Buffy made as if to move closer, but Willow flung an arm out, and she paused. A tiger barely leashed, Buffy kept her eyes the same place her friend did: on Tara Maclay.

"Tell me that's not true," Willow said, her voice calm. Frighteningly calm. The blond woman's eyes, those big, beautiful blue eyes, had gone guarded and unfamiliar. Tara's expression was strange, as if all her features had been erased and replaced with not-quite-right replicas.

She said nothing.

"Willow," Buffy said tightly, "I need you to go outside and get Officer March. Then call Henderson. I'll watch her." At that, Tara stood up so sharply that even Buffy flinched. There was something in the blond's normally soft face now that Willow had never seen before, and it scared her: cold determination...and fear.

"No," she said quietly, simply. Willow licked her lips, nerves racing through her. Buffy's brows lowered.

"Sit down and put your hands above your head, Miss Maclay." Tara ignored her, turning to face Willow. The terrifying look on her face shifted, changed, and now there was just the fear, and something else, as well: guilt.

"Please," the blond whispered. "D-d-don't do this. I c-can't be found." She spoke as if Buffy wasn't even in the room.

"You knew," Willow found herself saying. She had so many other things to say, like, "Get out of my house," and "Buffy, help." But she couldn't make her mouth form those words. Instead, she went on. "You knew all along that Raimey wanted me. You knew who let him out. You knew who he- you are who he was working for," she finished in a shaking, horrified whisper. Tara stepped towards her, and Willow jerked backwards. Tara froze. Then, quickly, quietly, her stutter back in full force, she began to talk.

"I d-d-didn't know, I swear. I had n-nothing to do with him, n-never. He worked for m-my father; he g-g-gave me the scar on my neck. If they f-find out I'm here, they'll k-kill me, I know it. Willow, please, I n-never meant for it to happen like this. I never-"

"You never meant for it to happen before you kissed me, or after?" Willow asked, surprised by the venom in her own voice. Tara blinked, and suddenly Willow could have sworn there were tears in her eyes. Willow felt a hollow, angry ache deep in her belly, and she knew she needed to face this. Buffy cleared her throat.

"Hey, whoa, let's just stay on track here. Willow, please, would you just-"

"Buffy," Willow interrupted, "can you..." She took a deep breath. I can't believe I'm doing this. "Can you just go outside for a second?" Buffy stared at her. Tara's face was carefully blank.

"Are you kidding me?"

"Buffy, please, just go in the hallway for just a minute. Please, I'll be okay, I'll scream if she moves." Slowly, not lowering the gun or taking her eyes from the blond by the couch, Buffy backed out of the room. Hesitating in the doorway, she called,

"If she even breathes wrong..." And she was gone.

Willow inhaled, shuddering. The fury, the twist of poisonous rage, was gone. Thankfully. Now, there was... nothing. She felt scooped out, emptied.

"How long were you going to wait, Tara? Before you told me? Or were you ever going to tell me?" Tara lifted a hand as if to reach out, and Willow's mouth tightened. "Don't." The hand fell back to her side.

"I was g-going-" Tara stopped. Looked down, then back up. "I don't know," she finished after a moment, her voice much softer. Almost helpless. "It w-was an accident. Working here. For you. I d-didn't know about your connection to Raimey until that c-cop came. And then..." She trailed off, but Willow stayed silent. Finally, Tara went on. "I thought I c-could... I thought if I stayed, I c-could face him d-d-down and..."

"And what? Kill him?" Willow said it harshly, a cruel joke, but Tara didn't drop her eyes. Willow shook her head, yet another wave of shock rippling across her ribs. "Oh, my Goddess."

"I wanted him dead," Tara said, her stutter fading in the wake of the cold hate that infused those words. Her eyes went momentarily distant, and then snapped back to focus. Willow crossed her arms protectively.

"So you were using me as bait," she said at last, slicing to her final conclusion. "You were going to wait until Raimey came after me, and then you were going to..." She didn't say it. "And everything else? That was... how could you have..."

"I t-told you," Tara broke in, and now she did step forward. "I didn't w-want it to happen like that."

"So you didn't want to kiss me?" Willow couldn't stop herself.

"No, I- I'm sorry," Tara said, taking another step. "I wanted to tell you." Willow didn't speak, and when Tara took another step and stopped less than a foot away from her, she didn't move. But when Tara reached to touch Willow's hand, the redhead lifted her chin and, very deliberately, took one step backwards.

"I think you're telling the truth," she began, "about not working for... for your family. Which, I take it, isn't as dead as you said it was." Before Tara could do more than open her mouth, Willow went on. "But you lied to me. You used me." The pain was in her voice now, and she couldn't stop it, and she felt her breathing speed up, and oh goddess not now. Willow closed her eyes, taking a deep, cleansing breath. Her heart rate slowed. She opened her eyes and kept talking. The old Willow, the one that had just recently re-awoken, was gaining control, and her brain was working fast. "But you're a wild card, and Raimey won't know you're here. He won't expect that." Tara was frowning, but Willow ignored it. "So you're going to stay, and Buffy and I are going to keep a very close watch on you, and when he- when he gets here, we'll see who uses whom."

"You c-can't be serious," Tara said quietly. She dashed a tear away from one eye, and forced the transformation: all woman, to all business. "Your friend will n-never let me stay."

"She'll do it," Willow replied, swallowing. "She'll do it. Buffy," she called, and instantly the blond cop was in the room.

"You done?"

"Buffy, Tara's going to stay here," Willow said, and her voice was back to the cool, collected Stepford sound that she'd had when Tara'd first met her. "She's going to be our last ace."

"Will," Buffy said, the sympathy in her voice hard to hear, "you can't trust her." And then, Tara realized that her grudging self-admission of affection after the movie had been far, far understated as Willow looked from Buffy to Tara herself.

"I know," Willow said, and there was nothing but honest, crushed acceptance in her voice.

And that just about broke Tara's heart.

Continue to All Our Masks Chapter Sixteen

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