Return to All Our Masks Chapter Sixteen

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!

Willow had hoped that she could successfully avoid Tara the next morning, especially considering that the blond was supposed to remain locked in the upstairs guest bedroom. However, after sleeping a restless and unsettling few hours, she'd made her way with heavy footsteps and heavier eyelids to the bathroom, pulling open the door only to reveal Tara Maclay herself.

For a second, come and gone too quickly for Willow to really register the thought, she allowed as to how Tara was maybe just a little bit stunning.

Then, the tangled, water-darkened slick of hair and the pale soft skin that made the white towel she had wrapped around her torso seem almost obscene faded in the face of those eyes, those starry blue eyes that held secrets Willow could just begin to uncover.

They stood there, facing each other, and Willow broke first.

"Buffy..." She didn't want to say ‘let you out', because that made it sound like they were keeping Tara in some kind of prison, but... Well, they were, weren't they? Tara nodded, though, saving her from having to complete the sentence.

"I'm allowed to go d-downstairs and get something to eat, too." Her tone was so even that, had Willow not known what to look for in terms of facial tells, she wouldn't have been able to figure out whether it was sarcasm or not. It was. Willow felt her cheeks heat, but the blush was a refreshing mix of embarrassment and anger.

"And you can thank me for that," she said coolly. "Buffy wanted us to bring you food in your room, to make sure you wouldn't, oh, slip some poison in the milk." Tara's chin lifted, something glittering in her gaze.

"B-but you don't believe I would d-d-do that." Willow made herself shrug.

"It would be stupid of you to kill me before Raimey gets here." She stepped forward, preparing to push past Tara, but the other woman grabbed her by the shoulders. The movement made Tara's towel slip, and Willow's eyes went involuntarily to the few inches more of breast that now showed above the terrycloth. She swallowed. Tara let her go, slowly moving one hand to the towel and, instead of jerking it back up to her collarbone, gripping the place where one corner tucked into the wrap. With the other hand, softer than soft, she touched Willow's cheek. Willow's green eyes jolted, haltingly, up.

"I won't hurt you, Willow," Tara said quietly, her expression melting into something almost vulnerable. Tilting her head back, away from Tara's fingers, Willow shook her head once.

"You already did."

Then she did slide past Tara into the bathroom, closing the door behind her before pressing her back to the wood and shutting her eyes.

The shower felt unbelievably good, her toes curling into the floor of the stall, skin rippling under the hot water. Willow, eyes closed again, lifted her head and let the water stream across her face, raising her hands to cup both cheeks, feeling two distinct sensations: the rough pattern of scars against her skin, and the gentle ghostly memory of Tara's fingers on her cheek.

When the door opened, it was quiet enough that Willow didn't hear it over the shower. When the shower curtain rattled back, she did hear, whipping around fast enough to nearly slip and fall. When Tara, dressed now in a white undershirt and jeans, reached into the shower and grabbed Willow by the neck to pull her out of the stream and close enough for the blond to steal the most unexpected kiss of Willow's life, she went momentarily deaf. And dumb.

Tara's hands stayed on Willow's neck, the fingers of one sliding up to grip the slick matted cap of the redhead's hair. She kissed her in a different way than she'd kissed her on the couch. She kissed her like there was a message there, something terribly important that, if wasn't expressed right here, right now, would leave them both broken. As it was, Willow found that she could not think of a single thing except Tara's mouth on hers, and then the blond pulled away, turned and left without a word.

Willow blinked, then pulled the shower curtain back and leaned against the wall. She touched her lips. She touched her chest, feeling her heart pounding.

"Well," she said aloud. "At least I didn't kiss her back, right?"

Her inner self, which was always there with a biting comment or a reminder of her own fragility, was miraculously (or pointedly) silent.

Buffy was watching her. It was unsettling, and Tara Maclay was not easily unsettled. Although, to be fair, her nerves were a little shot to hell at the moment. She hadn't really meant to invade Willow's privacy like that, hadn't really meant to grab her out of the shower, of all places, hadn't really meant to kiss her... But she'd done it anyway, out of spite or hurt or desperation or something she couldn't quite define. In her defense, it had all happened fast enough that she hadn't really seen anything... much. And now, downstairs, pouring cereal into a bowl with Willow's gorgeous blond friend sitting at the kitchen table keeping track of her every move, Tara was feeling a tad off kilter.

That morning, when Buffy had unlocked the door to Tara's bedroom and handed her a towel, she'd warned Tara to shower fast because Willow wasn't up yet, but she'd want the bathroom when she was. Tara had taken the towel and glanced towards the redhead's room, frowning. "So she d-did sleep?" As soon as the words were out, she'd recognized the worry in her voice, the unwelcome way her stutter made her concern all the more obvious. Tara had smoothed out her features as quickly as she could. Buffy, eyes narrowing, had just nodded.

Buffy hadn't said anything when Tara came in, but she hadn't needed to. That look was enough. Not many people could make her actually nervous, but apparently Buffy Summers of Los Angeles, California had a gift. Sitting there with her cup of coffee and her flannel pajama pants, her honeyed ponytail making her look about eighteen years old, she was perhaps the most understatedly blatant threat Tara had seen in a long time.

"So are you j-just going t-t-to keep me in that room all day?" Tara didn't look at Buffy as she asked, carefully replacing the cap on the milk, Willow's jibe about poison ringing in her ears.

"I'm not sure yet," Buffy said calmly, which surprised Tara a little. Taking her bowl to the table, Tara sat down at the opposite end. The cop in civilian clothing watched her like wolf in the garb of a sheep. "I thought at first that you were nothing but a spy for Raimey's people, someone Willow can't trust for a heartbeat."

"And now?"

"And now I still think you're someone Willow can't trust for a heartbeat. Or you were." There was something in her voice, something studied and oddly knowing, which might have been genuine or might have been just a clever cop trick to get people to talk. Tara couldn't tell, and that annoyed her. "Willow tells me you've been pretty damn well-behaved through all of this." Tara ate a spoonful of cereal. Willow had said that? The something-knowing in Buffy's voice got a little more solid, and Tara had the idea that Buffy knew exactly how she felt about the redhead. Well, T, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Or, of course, it could also be complete bullshit, and Buffy was just bluffing. Tara ate another spoonful. "That is, up until you guys got it on over there," Buffy added, jerking her head towards the hallway that led to the room where they'd kissed on the sofa.

Tara looked up fast, meeting Buffy's unreadable hazel eyes. In that moment, Tara realized something very important about Willow's unassuming, dangerous friend.

"You know I won't hurt her," Tara said, not stuttering at all. "You know I was never going to hurt her."

"I don't know that," Buffy corrected, stretching out her legs like a big, lazy cat. The kind with the big, lazy teeth. "But I know you're not what you seem, Miss Maclay, from any angle. You're not the hard-hearted mob princess that you should be, and you're not the innocent little runaway that you pretend to be. I don't know exactly what you are. But I do know that you care about my best friend up there, more than you want to show. And I also know that you might turn out to be more deadly than Cole Raimey... and you won't even have to try."

Tara held Buffy's gaze, feeling her heartbeat speed up. The cereal sat forgotten before her.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that you're going to hurt her, Tara Maclay, one way or another. Either you do what I thought you'd do from the beginning, and you betray her, or you do something stupid trying to protect her and get yourself killed. Either way, Willow loses. But she won't let me get rid of you, so I'm stuck watching and waiting until I know which way it's going to go down. So the way I see it is, I'll keep you locked up until I think you're going to stay away from Willow. She's already in deeper than I'd like, deeper than what's safe, and I'm not going to let you two turn into a 21st century Romeo and Juliet."

Tara opened her mouth. Then she closed it again, and had the strange urge to shake the cop's hand. It felt like some kind of accord had been reached, some judgment made and acknowledged. Acknowledged, but not accepted.

And that was when Willow, smelling of mint and oranges, stepped into the room.

Buffy and Tara, without a word or a glance at each other, resumed drinking coffee or eating cereal, the tenseness in the air dissipating almost instantly. Willow murmured a good morning to Buffy, and whether she could tell that something had happened between the two blondes or not, she didn't let on. Nor did she even look at Tara, walking around the table to pour herself a cup of tea.

"Any news?" she asked Buffy, holding her mug of chai in front of her face, her gloved hands tight on the ceramic.

"Maybe," Buffy replied. "I got a call earlier." Tara looked at her sharply, but Buffy's eyes were on her friend's.



Willow sat down.

Continue to All Our Masks Chapter Eighteen

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