Author: Jacks aka WiccanHandprintz
Tara felt like crying.
Her eyes, though, as she lay on her back and stared at the ceiling of the guest room she'd been using for the past few days, were dry.
She could hear the muted sounds of Buffy and Willow down the hall, talking quietly. Their voices were too low for her to make out words, but she knew what they were discussing. Or, rather, who.
Buffy, Tara took it, had spoken to the agent in charge of guarding Willow Rosenberg and gotten permission to stay in the house as a sort of final layer of protection, on the grounds that she was there for Willow's comfort as much as for her safety. She would sleep on the sofa that Tara herself had unearthed downstairs, while Willow would stay in the master bedroom and Tara, save for when she had to use the restroom or needed food, was expected to stay in her guest room. At night, Buffy had stated flatly, the door to Tara's room would be locked. An old house, the guest rooms in Willow's near-mansion were small enough that they might once have been considered servant's quarters. They locked from the outside.
Now, Tara lay with her arms outstretched, fingers reaching as far to the east and the west of her as they could. Her toes pointed, angling up, her legs straight out from her spine. She imagined the crucifixes her grandfather had worn, the expensive silver cross weighted with the tormented body of Christ. He'd put one around her neck once, when she was very young, and it had been heavy enough for the chain to leave a red mark on her neck. This memory made her smile bitterly, and the back of her neck tingled where the white scar traced that same place. The scar, also old, was from her sixteenth birthday. The day Cole Raimey, her father's hit man, touched her, and when she fought back, nearly garroted her with the wire he kept in his left sleeve. No one ever knew what had happened that day; injuries were taken for granted in that family, especially hers.
Scarred, Tara closed her eyes and brought her mind back to the day her grandfather had put the silver crucifix around her neck. She saw the cross. Saw the body. Remembered her childish horror, her utter confusion as to why anyone would look at such an awful thing with joy and praise. She hadn't understood the symbolism behind the image, but even when she did, she'd never been able to look at a crucifix since without seeing her father's father's cold, old eyes.
Now, in the position of the crucified, Tara wondered what she would sacrifice when all this was over.
She'd run from the family that hated her, but the darkness had followed in her memories. She'd tried to hide in the normal world, but had stepped into the very first place her past would look for her. She'd made every attempt to close herself off, to focus on her freedom at whatever cost, but her stubborn, reckless heart had locked onto the one person this entire charade couldn't help but betray. And now she was trapped here, trapped in every possible way, and waiting for a killer who wouldn't hesitate to put a bullet in her head right before starting on the woman she-
Tara wasn't sure.
She was unused to the feeling.
But what she was sure of was this: even- no, especially- after hearing the wounded distrust in the redhead's voice, Tara would step in front of Raimey's gun herself before she let the bastard touch Willow.
And, buried within that certainty was another thought: one that, until Willow had said it aloud, had lived in Tara's subconscious and waited. An' it harm none, do as ye will. Rede aside, Tara knew now, if Raimey gave her even the slightest chance... she would kill him.
"Eggs. Bread. Cheese. Lemons. Carrots. Anchov- ew," Xander broke off, mid-word. He looked at the crumpled grocery list in his hand, mouth curling down. "Anya, you don't like anchovies. I don't like anchovies. Why are we buying anchovies?"
"Because I read somewhere that they improve certain activities that I'm not supposed to talk about in public-"
"Ok," Xander interrupted, steering his wife away from an elderly couple who were watching the young woman with more than a little interest. Anya, never one to be led, twisted her arm away and flipped her hair over one shoulder. This didn't really do much, since she'd gotten it cut into a low bob a week before, a fact that she kept forgetting. Still, it flung a few currently-brown strands into Xander's mouth, and he quirked his lips at her. "Whatever, An. Just, don't forget, we also have to get tea."
"Tea? Well, fine, as long as it's caffeinated," she said. "I don't do decaffeinated."
"I know," he assured her, grabbing a box of noodles as they passed and tossing it into the basket at his waist.
"So how's Willow?" Anya's voice, despite the complete non sequitur, had gone as soft as it was possible for it to go. Her frank brown eyes, meeting Xander's over a display of early pumpkins, spared nothing. "The tea made me think of it," she added after a second.
"She's okay for now," Xander said slowly. "It's... complicated. But Buffy's there, as of this afternoon."
"And the cops are watching the house?"
"Well," she said, turning to pick up a can of spaghetti sauce, "that's good. You might want to call them for ours, as well, if that man keeps following us." Xander took the can before her words sunk in. He almost dropped the sauce, but Anya's quick fingers snagged it just in time. She set the sauce in the basket, and cocked her head at him. Xander's voice dropped to a hoarse whisper as he bent to her.
"We're being followed?!" Anya lowered her voice as well, for once taking the cue.
"Of course we are. You didn't notice?"
"No," Xander hissed. "Not all of us are former thieves with ninja reflexes and x-ray vision." She patted his hand.
"I know, dear. It's not your fault."
"Who is it? What does he look like? Where?"
"He's not in here anymore," Anya said easily, "so we don't actually need to whisper like this. He followed us from the hardware store; very nicely done, too. I actually wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't been looking at those gorgeous flowerpots. I could see him through the hole in the bottom when I picked one up; you know, where the water drains out. He was across the aisle. My spidey sense went wacky, and sure enough, he stayed parallel the whole time and then followed us here, too. He left a few minutes ago."
Xander blinked at her, and took a deep breath.
"Ok. What did he look like?"
"Middle aged, but fit. Dark eyes. Creepy."
"We need to call the cops," he told her, handing her the basket to rummage for his cell phone. Anya sighed.
"Didn't I just say that five minutes ago?"
He was already talking to Henderson.
Raimey pulled over off a side road he'd found, popping the trunk of his stolen car. He switched the plates quickly, quietly and efficiently, breathing through his nose. Raimey was in the habit of making as little noise as possible. Still, he was almost positive he hadn't been quite stealthy enough; something about the way the woman with Alexander Harris had looked at him made him uneasy. She'd only glanced at him once, and very briefly, but though her eyes hadn't lingered on him after lowering the flowerpot, Raimey had gotten a very distinct warning bell in his shark's mind. He didn't know who she was; that would have to be determined. Harris's girlfriend? His wife? Probably the latter, Raimey decided; Harris wore a ring, and they bickered like old marrieds.
Still, 'Harris's wife' was not enough. If there was even the slightest chance she knew him, she'd need to be taken out. Raimey frowned. This was getting unduly complicated. The cop was there, the one from before. The one who'd shot him. He'd seen her arrive, seen her talk with the officer on duty, seen her angry and gesticulating and finally admitted into the house. And now Harris, who might have been an in, had a wife who was either far smarter than her husband, or who just set Raimey's teeth on edge for some other, unknown reason. Since Raimey detested the unexplained and the random, he locked the pretty brunette's face into his mind and made a mental note to find out exactly who she was... and, possibly more importantly, who she'd been.
Complicated, complicated. The web was growing. Still, Raimey thought as he got back into the nondescript Suburu, nothing too bad had happened yet. The plan was still a go.