Author: Jacks aka WiccanHandprintz
The motel was a seedy one. Willow supposed she should have expected that, but still, the thought of Tara inside one of those dim, stale little rooms, alone with Cole Raimey, made her feel slightly sick. She rubbed at her upper arms, trying to steel herself. Standing in the parking lot, the gun an uncomfortable weight against her side in the inner pocket of her too-big leather jacket (the one she'd borrowed years ago from Xander and had never given back), Willow wished without really giving it words that Buffy was standing beside her. That she could just hand this over to someone braver, smarter, more prepared. But Buffy wasn't there, of course; Buffy was somewhere casing the motel or still walking from where, after dropping Willow off, Xander and she had hidden the car. Willow looked around, but all she could see were a few scattered vehicles, one bicycle, and the strip of motel that rose like a child's slumping sand castle out of the tarmac. No sign of FBI, but no sign of Buffy, either.
Don't think like that, she told herself. Willow shook her head, and forcibly reminded herself that this had been her plan. She had to trust that Buffy was there, out of sight, doing her job. Just like Buffy was trusting that Willow would do her job, and right now, that job meant unfreezing her breathless limbs and getting a move on.
"Okay," Willow said aloud, and dropped her hands to her sides. She wanted to take out the gun before she even approached the room, but managed not to let herself reach for it. Now that she might actually have to use the weapon on someone else, someone living and breathing and bleeding, Willow wasn't sure that she'd be able to grab the gun when the time came; resisting the urge now only made that worse, but she knew that showing up on Raimey's door with a pistol in her hand would be as good as slitting Tara's throat herself. Unless, of course, she could shoot Raimey as soon as he opened the door? But surely he wouldn't be that stupid. Surely... "Just do it, Will," she told herself, gritting her teeth against the nervous thoughts that spun so wildly inside her head. "Go!"
And she walked up to room number 14 and, closing her eyes hard before opening them to meet the faded wood of the door, Willow knocked.
"It's me," she called, and then regretted it but wasn't sure why. Logically, she knew that Raimey would require proof that it was actually her, but she couldn't help but worry that everything, even just those words, was only making things worse. "Raimey, let me in."
"Will you huff and puff?" he asked from inside, and she could feel his dry amusement through the door. Her hands, snugly gloved, began to sting. Willow swallowed, her heart coming alive in her, each pulse painful. The door opened.
Tara, bloody, her pretty face marred with a strip of silvery tape across her mouth, stood shadowed in the slight crack of doorway. Raimey stood behind her, a knife at her throat. In that instant, Willow and Tara's eyes met, and Willow read a very clear message there: Kill him. As if party to their silence, Raimey smiled.
"If you're armed, I'd think twice. By the time you reach for anything, she'll be your own personal Pez dispenser." Tara's hard blue eyes said, Do it anyway, just do it, forget me, and Willow knew her own were sending a message just as clear: No.
"I'm no fool, Cole," she said out loud, breaking her gaze, and held up both hands. "We're playing by your rules."
"Exactly," he agreed, and stepped back, dragging Tara with him. Her face didn't change throughout the whole exchange, but now Willow saw the angled sheen of tears in her eyes. She felt a muscle somewhere in her throat jump tensely, and stepped inside. "Close the door." She did it. "Lock it." She did it.
Raimey pulled Tara back towards the bed, and Willow couldn't stop herself from a halting half-step towards them. Raimey caught it and smirked.
"You're lucky I'm not a pervert, ladies," he told them, and let go of Tara only to shove her down to sit on the mattress. He sat too, one arm around her shoulders to keep her in place. Willow saw for the first time that her arms were not handcuffed behind her, as she'd thought, but taped. "Otherwise, this could get nasty."
"Are we supposed to feel grateful for that?" Willow asked, trying to sound arch, her mind racing. Raimey liked confrontation, liked interesting things, liked fire. She couldn't let him get bored with them before Buffy was ready, or, one way or another, it would all be over. Raimey smiled.
"Well, I should say so." He gestured for her to come closer, and Willow stayed where she was. Raimey frowned, and brought the knife up to Tara's collarbone. Willow saw that she was already bleeding from the arms, and that there was one shallow slice along the side of her throat. "Come here, Doctor, or I'll do something unpleasant."
Willow took three small steps nearer to the bed. Tara's eyes were screaming at her now, sapphire blue and filled with desperate rage. Willow tried not to look at them, hating herself for not being able to just... To just... She took a breath.
"You have me, Cole. You win. Let her go."
"But we have so many things to talk about, and the lovely Tara is so very important," he argued calmly, playing with a strand of Tara's hair. "Think of her as a prop. Feel free to sit down, Doctor; just like our sessions. I'm going to tell you a story." Tara made a muffled sound against the tape, and Raimey yanked the strand of hair hard. Willow's lips tightened.
"I don't think this is the time for stories. You've got what you want, so just let her go and I'll-"
"I've 'got what I want'? What is it that you think I want, Willow, exactly? How do you know I've got it?" She blinked, stepped closer. Two feet between her and the bed now.
"You want me. You want to finish what you started, and you want revenge. But mostly you want to complete the job. You hate leaving things, leaving loose strings. And after I'm gone, you can disappear. Start over. Do what you like." He nodded, shrugging, and tugged Tara a little closer to him. She made another sound, nostrils flaring, but didn't struggle.
"That's very good, Doctor, but hardly surprising. And you're missing something. That's your problem, isn't it? You see the big picture, but you miss the details. For instance, you think that 'finishing the job' means killing you. And, I suppose to an extent it does." He gestured with the knife, tilting his head thoughtfully. "But I wasn't trying to kill you, Willow, I was trying to immolate you. There's a difference. I'm sure that from your position, of course, the two were very much the same."
"Fine, you want to play?" she asked, harshly, understanding. "This isn't how you're going to crush me, Cole. That girl," she added, jutting her chin at Tara, "is not going to break me down."
"No? But you're so worried about her, Willow, so very concerned."
"She's a friend of mine," Willow allowed, keeping her eyes on Raimey. "She worked for me. I don't want her hurt. I don't want anyone hurt. So why don't you just let her go and find a better way?" Raimey sighed.
"If you want to keep insisting she's not important, then you're perfectly welcome to do so. It would be more fun the other way, but after all, this is just as bad for her as it is for you. Worse, maybe. So I'll enjoy that much, and once she's dead, maybe I'll find something better for you."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Raimey wound his fingers in Tara's hair and yanked her head to one side, baring her throat. He lifted the knife and traced her jugular, and Willow found she couldn't breathe.
"Tara's in love with you, Doctor," Raimey remarked, not looking away from Tara's neck. "Didn't you know?"
"She's not in love with me," Willow protested weakly, and couldn't stop the glance at the blond. Tara was breathing all right, she was breathing fairly hard, and her eyes were wide and panicked. They weren't on Raimey, though, and they weren't on Willow. Tara was seeing something Willow couldn't, and whatever it was, it scared her.
"She is," Raimey disagreed. "And that's not even the best part. The best part... is that-" Tara jerked in Raimey's grasp, and the knife slid across her throat towards her ear. Raimey grunted with surprise, and just as Willow's hand faltered towards where the gun was hidden, he'd managed to regain his grip on Tara's hair and hit her hard in the face with his free hand, thankfully not with the blade pointed in. She cried out, an awful muted sound through the tape, and an angry red splotch blossomed across her cheek. Willow dropped her hand instantly, and thanked the gods that Raimey's eyes were fixed on her face and not her hands. Raimey coughed. "Feisty little thing, isn't she? And desperate. Desperate that I... What was it, Tara? 'Keep my slimy, worthless mouth shut'?" He laughed.
Willow felt something in her stomach, something cold and uncertain. She looked at Tara, and nearly stumbled: the blond was crying, blue eyes reddening against the salt. Tara shook her head, but Raimey just patted her on the cheek and went on.
"Oh, yes, she was very vocal about it before I gagged her. She was quite insistent that you, my dear Doctor Rosenberg, never find out the truth."
"I already know the truth," Willow said, trying to sound hard. She felt so fucking helpless here, watching Raimey and Tara on the bed, Tara with the tape and the blood and the tears. "She's Donnie Maclay's sister. You worked for her family." To her shock, Raimey let out a shout of laughter. Willow looked from one to the other, and felt her stomach drop. She'd missed something, yet again.
"Oh, that's good," Raimey said, still chuckling. "You thought that was your little ace, didn't you? Tara told me you knew who she was; that's not the big, bad secret. The big, bad secret is more about, you know, what she is." The cold thing snaked its way up through her ribs, found her arms, sent cold jolts through the stinging chronic pain around her wrists and palms. Willow shook her head.
"What are you talking about?" Tara shook her head again, trying to catch Willow's eyes, but Willow couldn't look away from Raimey.
"Your girlfriend," he said, very quiet now, "is a murderer."
Willow felt her heartbeat slow, very loudly, in her ears.
"That's a lie."
"Is it?" he asked, and pulled Tara's head up from where she'd let it fall against her chest, forcing their eyes to meet. When Willow looked at Tara, she saw the plain, burning, horrible truth there. "She killed a man in cold blood. With scissors," he added helpfully. "And she didn't even look back." Willow stared as, slowly, Raimey peeled the tape away from Tara's mouth to leave her lips ringed with red. Silence.
"I had to," Tara said then, hoarsely. She held Willow's gaze, the tears bunching at the corners of her eyes before they slid towards her nose. "I... I had to."
"You had to," Willow repeated, still stunned.
"I didn't know," Tara swore, but the words dropped hard and false against the moth-eaten carpet. Raimey, satisfied, just sat and watched the wreckage.