Return to All Our Masks Chapter Seventeen

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!

Karen Henderson stood at the head of the table in Willow's kitchen, flanked by Buffy and Xander. Tara and Willow sat at the table, and Tara could tell that Willow was just as uncomfortable as she was... though for a different reason. Tara herself felt queasy, hot, uncertain, out of control. She assumed that Buffy hadn't told Henderson about her, which really only made things worse: now it was as if she and Buffy were lying to Willow, keeping secrets, even if technically Tara hadn't said a word about anything Willow didn't already know. And it's not like you weren't lying to her before, T, her subconscious muttered irritably. But this is different, Tara muttered back. This isn't about me and my past, it's about me and Willow. It's different.

Across the table from her, Willow sat with her arms folded, elbows resting on the wooden tabletop. Her gloves, dark gray cotton today, were looser than the fitted ones she usually wore; she kept worrying at one of the fingers, tugging it tight and then letting it smooth out. She still hadn't looked at Tara since the kiss in the shower, not once. Stupid, Tara thought, looking at her own clean fingers. What was I thinking? What the hell was I thinking?

Everything was falling apart.

"I want to get you out of here," Henderson announced. Buffy, arms folded, nodded. "This is the proof we needed to get you to a safe space; I'm even considering the Witness Protection Program. Miss Maclay," she went on, directing that cool, even gaze her way, "I'm sure Dr. Rosenberg is grateful for your company over the past few days, but it's too dangerous for you to be here any longer. I'm going to need you to get your things and leave the area as soon as possible." Willow looked up, her deadened eyes brightening somewhat.

"Wait. We decided-"

"Willow," Henderson interrupted, bracing herself against the table and leaning down, "I'm sorry, but you've got to do as I say here." Tara looked to Buffy, searching for a nod, a headshake, a wink, anything... but the blond cop stood stock still, face blank. Tara swallowed. What was she supposed to do? If Henderson didn't know about her connection to Cole Raimey, then all the better. But if she tried to say something, to protest being kicked out of Willow's house, then it would bring the FBI down on her back at once, and apparently Buffy Summers wasn't going to help her. Hell, Buffy probably was thanking god for this; she wanted Tara gone.

Maybe, though, leaving was the right thing to do. The safest thing, no doubt. Sure, there would be no vengeance against Raimey, no final confrontation, no closure from her old life. They would always hunt her, of course, if she didn't make the kind of cold, deadly statement that killing Raimey would be, but would murder really be a fair trade for freedom in the first place? She'd hurt that one man when she ran, and that had been bad enough; could she really kill to win a better life? Now that it seemed she had no choice but to run again, Tara found the doubts almost overpowering.

And Willow? Pretty, broken Willow? Tara understood that she'd been right all along, that Buffy was right, too, even though she hadn't wanted to believe it: she was bad for Willow, dangerous, dangerous because she was careless and stupid and--

Tara looked across the table. Willow looked back, meeting her eyes for the first time all morning.

Blue and green, green and blue.

"All right," Tara said, her chest tightening, ribs sucking in around her heart. "I'll g-go."

Janelle is gone. She has to be gone; Tara can't imagine that Donnie would have left her alone. Not after seeing them, seeing the way Janelle looked with his sister's fingers under her shirt. Tara is in her room, the air still ringing with Janelle's startled shriek and Donnie's furious roar, the floor rolling and spinning beneath her feet. This is not her first time doing what Donnie calls messin' around, but it's the first girl here, the first girl the family knows. Tara doesn't think Donnie's killed her, doesn't think Eddie will have papers for some other girl to cover up the death of this one, but judging by the way Donnie dragged the maid out of the room, using one hand on her wrist and one hand coiled viciously in her dark hair, she's pretty sure that Janelle is not coming back.

Tears slipslide down her cheeks, and she can't quite tell whether they feel hot or cold. Her face feels blank, expressionless. Her hands in her lap. Her feet on the floor. The bed, soft, springy.

After Donnie finishes with Janelle, or makes someone else do it, he'll be coming back up here. He won't delegate that; the days of following in Eddie's footsteps or those of his father are over, now that the Old Man is dead and Donnie's in charge. Tara doesn't understand, really, why he takes her so personally. Why, after two decades, he won't let another man touch her but he'll beat her ‘til she bleeds for her wicked, unforgivable sin. She supposes she should be grateful that the days when Donnie and the other boys stalked her around the house, calling threats and smacking belts against their fists, are gone. They never did rape her, of course. Not in so many words.

Tara feels her lips twitch at that, closing her eyes against the tears, hating them, hating Donnie for making her weak, hating Janelle, even, for her terrified begging face as Donnie led her away.

He'll be back soon, quiet Inner Tara says. You should get ready. He'll be angrier if he finds you like this. She straightens her shirt and, standing, goes to the small vanity table in the corner. Her face is very pale in the mirror, her eyes reddened with crying. Her hair, long enough to reach the small of her back, is everywhere. Her mother had long hair, is why she keeps it like this. Before the bad things happened. Tara takes the wooden brush from the vanity, numbly stroking it down from the crown of her head to her waist. When she has the hair smoothed into the sleek, thick curtain that her father (and even Donnie, when he is in the mood) always used to praise. She swallows, looking at herself, wiping the tears away.

There are scissors on the vanity, the small kind you use on fingernails, and for a moment Tara is compelled almost beyond resistance to pick them up and snip away her hair until there is nothing left. She doesn't, of course. She's not that stupid, though kissing a girl in Donnie's own house would seem to argue otherwise.

Tara picks up the scissors, though, a tiny silver thing with delicate loops for the fingers and small, curved blades. She wishes they were bigger, so she could stick them in Donnie's sneering, falsely affectionate face.

This kind of thinking is dangerous, and Tara shies away from it almost at once. Twenty-seven years of living as a Maclay have taught her this much, at least. Maybe it's the scissors, or Janelle, or maybe it's the fact that it won't be long before she's twenty-eight... but Tara finds herself drawn back to the idea, an idea that, though much-considered, she's never been brave enough to try.

"You could leave," she says aloud, to herself. In the mirror, a blond woman with a colorless face and a pair of tiny ladies' fingernail scissors stares back. "G-get the... get the fuck out of here," the woman suggests.

And it occurs to her that there aren't many people here at this time of day, mid-afternoon. They're all out. Working. But no, no, she can't go, they'd catch her in a day. And besides... this is all she knows. Eyes dropping, Tara puts down the scissors and gathers up her hair to braid it, anything to make the time before her brother comes for her go by less agonizingly. She scoops her hands up, under, sliding them towards her neck--

And there's the scar, abrasive and ropey, from the family's pet serial killer.

Raimey's in prison now, but she's sure that won't take.

And there's something, some tiny little catch, some indefinable combustion of events leading up to this one unspeakable switch, and Tara's up, the scissors back in hand, gripped so tightly that she can feel the metal boring into the flesh of her palm. The blades aren't more than an inch long, but if she's fast enough and strikes in the right place (the neck, the side of the neck) or even in some meaty part like an arm or the stomach, she'll draw enough pain and surprise to give her time to run.

"All right," she says to her reflection as she moves silently for the door. "I'll g-go."

The flashback, there and gone in an instant, sent a shivery jolt of nausea through Tara's gut. The same thing, the same exact words, with completely different expectations and hopes and intentions... And now, now she was left sitting across from Willow Rosenberg feeling like she'd just broken a child's nose.

Willow didn't protest, once Tara agreed to leave. Tara thought she might. Tara thought she might find her when she was gathering the few clothes she'd had with her, or when she was talking to Agent Henderson about what she was liable for and where she ought to go if something should happen related to the case, or when she paused at the front door and gripped the knob hard enough to hurt.

Willow didn't. She was back in the kitchen when Tara left, Buffy and Xander crowding around her like mother hens-- or bodyguards. Tara didn't see her covering her face with her ruined hands, didn't see her drawing in long, unsteady breaths, didn't see the tears on her own cheeks.

It wasn't until Tara was out of the house, in a cab and heading for the small town airport that she let herself cry.

The crying didn't last, though. Especially since, several minutes after getting out of the taxi and entering the airport to wander towards the bathrooms, something very thin and very sharp stung her on the neck from behind. As her stomach rose and her vision whirled into a sick blanket of dark spots, her legs giving out and her torso sagging back into someone's arms, Tara vaguely heard a man's voice saying, "It's all right, just my wife, she's got a bad virus, I'll get her home."

Continue to All Our Masks Chapter Nineteen

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