Author: Rei and Chris
She stalked her prey as she prowled along her perch. The morning sun was just thinking of peeking though the clouds. She made no sound as she drew ever closer to her target, gracefully walking with a roll to her hips. There was a slight movement, then time stood still or the briefest of moments, she...pounced!
Tara shot bolt upright in bed, having suddenly grown an extra kitten shaped appendage. She rubbed her eyes as she leaned back against the headboard and tried to remove Miss Kitty's claws in a fairly painless manner. She rubbed her eyes and glared at the hungry cat still clinging to her nightshirt, "m' nightshirt for wearing, not sharpening claws on." Tara fell back onto the pillow for a moment which certainly wasn't going to move the tenacious kitty and then started to get up, "ok, ok, I give."
Tara got out of bed and Miss Kitty, mission accomplished, jumped down and ran eagerly downstairs towards her bowl. Tara got some of her food out of the cupboard and opened he door for her to get out. She shook free her sleep tousled hair and set about getting ready for work.
Warren applied the final touches to his little present. He had laboriously worked on this, it had to be perfect, to less than half a percentile. He had not got to where he had today by accepting second best, oh no...he had killed for it. He hadn't killed himself, of course, he hadn't wanted to get his hands dirty. But when one wants a job done properly, well, there really was no other choice but to do it yourself. He whistled under his breath as he closed the lid of his little toy, tonight...oh, Gotham better batten down the hatches, The Riddler is in town. Warren let loose a maniacal cackle.
The morning had come and passed before the hired muscle Angel had ordered to take the photo to the Police Department walked through the double doors of Gotham PD. Somewhat nervously, given his profession, the thug, photo - now in an envelope - in hand, walked towards the front desk where the PC on desk duty looked him over.
Without waiting to be called over, the thug walked up to the desk, threw the envelope on the table and growled, "a present for Ms. Summers, she should be interested at the person in the photo."
It just happened that Buffy had been checking in for her shift and had heard this, the thug being by no means eager to hang around, turned tail and left, there were probably a few things Gotham PD would like to talk to him about themselves, he was well known as muscle for hire and only came here in the first place because he was more scared of Angel than prison, and rather wisely so.
With no one there to specify which Summers the photo was meant for, Buffy said that she would take it up. Having heard Angel's threat to Catwoman, she was fully expecting to see someone very near in costume, in the time that Angel had terrorized Gotham, he had never made an idle bluff. Buffy slid her finger into the corner of the envelope and opened it, revealing the picture within.
Buffy had been expecting to finally find out who this woman was...
But the person she saw in the picture was the last she would have ever expected to see.
Buffy looked at the photograph in shock, she'd just been speaking with this girl yesterday. A couple of things clicked into place, the eyes, she knew she had recognized those eyes. And her hesitation, Buffy had put that down to being shy, the last thing she would have guessed was that Tara had a reason to be worried about her. She put the photo in her pocket, she didn't know what to do and she had very few people she could talk to. Her mother wanted Catwoman more than she did, and Willow...God, Willow was going out with the girl! Buffy picked up her phone and dialed a number, it rung a couple of times before Xander's voice came out to her, "Xander, can you get an hour to yourself? Yeah, that's cool. Mocha and donuts on me. Later."
Willow walked down the corridors of Rosenberg Enterprises after another fairly bloodthirsty verbal confrontation with Warren. He was the number two in the company but only by virtue of mummy and daddy, at every step, he tried to undermine her. It was getting frustrating, if he were just willing to work with her, he certainly had the brains that they would be able to do a lot for both the company and Gotham. Instead, she had the impression that if Warren were to get just a little more support, she had better watch over her shoulder for a coup.
Then there was Tara. Willow loved her, not just how she looked, her hair, those amazing blue eyes, Willow had had many girls throw themselves at her who had only looks to the advantage, half of those, she suspected, 'came out' because Willow doing so had made it the 'thing to do' which made her more than a little sick. There was something about Tara, it was almost as if she could see her soul behind her eyes. The socialites Willow had constantly dated to keep people from wondering just what she did at night (especially to get some of the bruises she had to cover the worst of up), Willow had no doubt that it was her money that they loved more than anything else. Willow had worked hard all of her life, whatever her parents had given her, she didn't know that she could stand spending the rest of her life with someone that couldn't see exactly why she did work hard. Tara though, she did work hard whatever else she did, she had worked here for long enough that Willow could see that.
But, of course, there were her own nightly activities and she would not get away with these forever. Every criminal falls into a pattern sooner or later, no matter how careful they are and Willow had been getting closer and closer. Of course, she was a step or two ahead of the police, she had always been able to see patterns in numbers and in other aspects of life, but sooner or later, she would be just that touch too careless, Batman or the police would have to bring the girl in, even if, following up on something Buffy had picked up, Catwoman had turned out to be more Robin Hood than anything else...and speaking - or rather thinking - of the devil, there she was.
Tara set about putting away the detergents that had needed using for the corridors, wiping sweat from her brow as another day was done. She heard the clicking of heels behind her as she locked the cupboard door and smiled as a shadow fell across her, its scent having reached her nose some time ago. She let a half smile play upon her lips, "afternoon ma'am, is there anything I can do for you?"
Willow pretended to consider, smiling at the laughing tone in Tara's voice, "hmm, I'm sure here's a couple of things I could think of that could be done in my office, but you've already put away the equipment for one such thing and I think my two-thirty would be shocked to find us doing the other."
Tara dipped her head, letting her hair cover her face for a moment as the implication of what she had just heard registered in her mind, she felt a gentle finger lift her chin and turned to look into and get lost in Willow's deep emerald green eyes. She gave a shy smile, "it's only two-ten."
"Yes, but if something is worth doing, it's worth taking the time to do it properly." Willow could see the blush creeping up Tara's face and winked. Tara started to walk towards the exit and looked over her shoulder at Willow, waiting for her to fall into step, "are you still ok to be my guest tonight?"
Tara nodded her head, "w-what should I wear?"
Willow considered, "it's a pretty flashy party, I could always get you something, I'm sure you'd like something of your own rather than relying on a friend to lend you something." Of course, Willow knew that this 'friend' didn't likely exist, but still...
Tara looked flustered for a moment, "I...I wouldn't want people to think..."
Willow brushed this aside, "oh come on, I can buy my date whatever I like. Most people expect it now."
"I'm n...not most people," Tara considered for a moment, "and you haven't been seen more than a handful of times with most people either, which would mean that you get tired of 'most people' expecting those gifts."
Willow nodded her head, "ah, smart as well as beautiful. You're right, but let me do this for you? I do want to."
The two walked out of the building into the bright sunlight before Tara nodded her head, "ok."
Willow smiled, "great. I really do have to get to that meeting, Xander should be back in ten minutes or so, he's just gone to talk with Buffy, I'll ring him up before going in." Willow took out a chequebook and scribbled on the top page for a moment before signing the bottom and tearing it off with a flourish.
Willow held out the check for Tara and Tara took it, her eyes widening as she saw the name of the store on the 'to' line and the fact that the amount had been left blank, "Willow...I...just a dress there..."
Willow placed a gentle finger on Tara's lips, "just ask for Sarah and she'll look after you, she's done this for me before, ok?"
Tara nodded her head, almost mute, Willow brushed her cheeks with her lips before walking into the building.
Xander had arrived at the coffee shop not long before Buffy. Now, he was not a man to turn down free mocha and donuts, no sir, but something in her voice had told him that she really needed to talk...about something serious. Xander, put frankly, was a goof and he knew this, so he wondered why it was him Buffy had gone to when she had her mother and Willow close by...
Which lead him to think that unless both were too busy for her, and being honest, neither of them ever were, it was something that she felt she couldn't share with them, which made Xander a touch nervous.
Buffy walked in through the door, a box of donuts in her hand. She looked across the room and waved at Xander before walking over to the counter and ordering up coffees. It was a short wait before she gathered up two mugs, placing the box under her arm to do so, and walked on over to Xander. She sat down at the table, pushing his mug across and opening the box of donuts, taking one out for herself and biting into it.
Xander could see in Buffy's eyes that something really was bothering her, "what's the what?"
Buffy took a moment to take a deep breath and wipe a bit of sugar from the corner of her mouth. She sighed and took the photo from her pocket, "you remember Angel threatened Catwoman that he'd let the cat out the bag?"
Xander nodded his head and Buffy flicked the photo across to him, his eyes flickered over it and widened a touch. He studied the photo before cautiously offering, "well...anyone can get a copy of Photoshop nowadays...I mean I once put my head on Batman's body...I think I found one of mine on yours, not quite sure how that got there..." Buffy kicked Xander under the table, "hey! I deleted it soon as I found it!"
Ignoring this, Buffy took Xander's suggestion into consideration before shaking her head, "nuh-uh, he's never bluffed, not once."
Xander looked at the photo again, "I still don't believe it, her? I mean we spoke to her last night..." something about Buffy's expression clicked, "it's not just Tara being in that picture that has you worried, is it?"
Buffy shrugged her shoulders, "I guess...see, I know that Angel doesn't bluff, whatever he says he'll do, he does it." Buffy knew that first hand..."so, I was waiting for him to give her to us, Xander. I'd actually forgot that he is the person he is, I was hoping that he'd get in touch, that we'd get this woman off the street." Buffy sighed and gestured at the photo, "if she's meant to be evil, what the hell does that make me?"
Xander took Buffy's hands, "you're a good cop, there's nothing that is going to change that, but it looks like you're struggling with the question of morality against law."
"She can't keep doing what she's doing. I don't care where the money is going, it's not hers to give, but..."
Xander nodded his head, "anyone else and we wouldn't be having this conversation, you'd be talking to them in the interview room."
Buffy nodded, "and Willow...We should be focusing on Angel, I mean he's the one that tried to kill Willow last night, but this photo..."
Xander shrugged his shoulders, "the head looks out of line with the neck to me, I'd say it's someone jerking your chain." They had already ruled out that possibility, but Xander said it as if the thought had never been mentioned, "seriously, I don't see how you have any evidence to trouble the girl with and if Catwoman is as smart as you say she is, she isn't likely to leave too much evidence lying around her home."
Buffy nodded her head, "considering also that it was sent in by a criminal that might well be trying to divert attention from himself, I don't see that there's a DA that would touch it." Buffy took the photo and slipped it into her pocket. What she and Xander had been saying was what any halfway decent defense attorney would say, but she knew, all it took was for the girl to be careless and that was it, there was nothing Buffy could or would do to help her. Buffy took a sip of her coffee and took one more donut, pushing the box across the Xander, "I take it I'm not the only one that thinks we shouldn't show this to Willow."
"Show what to Willow?"
Buffy nodded, "thanks, Xander."
It was a twenty minute drive later when Xander, having received his call from Willow, pulled into the staff carpark and pulled up alongside Tara. He didn't really know what to think about her, he was sure that she wasn't dangerous, at least if she had meant to hurt anyone, she had had her chances. This would be tricky for Willow though, he knew that, if this ever came out, he wasn't sure just how she would take it.
He had wiped these thoughts from his mind as he gestured at the door, "it's unlocked." Tara nodded her head and climbed into the front seat. Xander grabbed the box with the remaining donuts from the back of the seat and offered one to Tara, she shook her head and Xander munched away on one for a moment before stretching back and smiling, "Will says we're going somewhere special." Tara nodded her head, with no apparent conversation forthcoming, Xander put the car in gear. As they waited at the junction for the main road, Xander popped open a cooler with a couple of cans of cola nicely cooling away, "a drink my lady?"
The tone in Xander's voice made Tara giggle, he was so disarming, "I'm not anyone's lady, but thank you."
Xander smiled as Tara took a can, "oh, so you're not Willow's lady?" Tara looked at Xander out of the corner of her eyes, Xander noticed this look and held a hand up in mock surrender, "ok, ok, I'll behave! Just please don't look at me like my mother!"
Tara turned her eyes upon him, a smile dancing behind them, "I'm sure your mother had plenty of reason to use that look."
Xander's tone dripped childish innocence, "nuh-uh, I were a good lickle boy." A sound very much like 'pfft' came from Tara's mouth and Xander grimaced, "well, there was the time I...and then there was...oh and of course...is it any wonder I ended up living in the basement?"
Tara laughed, but the smile was suddenly a little brittle, "it b-beats n-not knowing whether you'll even have that the next time the bills come through the door. We were always having to stay one step ahead of the next Final Demand." Tara sighed as Xander drove on, "when people say how affluent Gotham is, they look at the people that could never spend all of their money if they gave half of it away, they could clear out their bank accounts and with the shares they have, they would spend less than a week with a five figure bank balance. People never stop to wonder where that money comes from."
Xander nodded his head as he drove, a lot of that did make sense, there were people born on the right side of the genetic lottery, the rest had to make do. "A journo had a tape recorder on the roof Buffy was looking out on at the night of the party, Catwoman said something very like that, there's at least four articles painting her out as America's Robin Hood." Xander looked at Tara as they stopped at a light, "what do you think of what she's doing?"
Tara looked away for a moment, unsure of how to answer that, "if she's as moral as those stories make her out to be, then she knows that what she is doing is wrong, but I've seen those stories, I had to put the papers in the lobby this morning, none of them look at why someone might be driven to do that."
Xander nodded his head, it seemed that that answer had answered a question he himself had, it had helped him make his mind up over whether he really was going to warn Willow off. His easygoing fašade hid more sense than anyone would credit him for. He spoke up as he drove on, "can I give you some advice?" Tara nodded her head as she took a sip from the cola can, "Someone dating someone with as high a profile as Willow, they have a fair bit of power. People are going to take an interest in you, they're going to listen to what you say, y'know? Willow has also been out with a lot of the socialites in this city since she came out, they're people who know how to fashion public opinion into daggers, it's all they do, a lot of them aren't going to like being upstaged by a cleaner. I kinda agree with what you're saying, Willow is one of the good ones, for every one like her, there are ten or more that just don't give a damn, but I would be careful with what you say to who for a while, people have a habit of turning innocent comments around on you. Beware those that act as friends in this world, they know what it means to keep their enemies close."
Tara nodded her head, looking back to Xander with a curious look behind her eyes, "I think I should apologize." Xander shrugged his shoulders and made a questioning gesture with his head, "I...last night, I took you at face value, now I get the feeling that it would be a big mistake for people to do that."
Xander shrugged his shoulders, "I get to follow Will around when she's in the limelight, no one pays attention to me, the girls she's been with especially, Cordellia...ugh. It leaves me free to watch them, you would be surprised at what people give away about themselves when they don't know they're being watched, or rather when they don't know they're being watched in a way they're not used to."
On that comment, they pulled up outside one of the most exclusive clothes and jewelry stores in the city, Xander nodded at the car door, "wait outside the front door, I'll just park up and I'll be right there. Trust me when I say that's easier than you staying with me."
With Xander's earlier comments in her mind, Tara nodded her head and stepped out of the car. She felt a little alone while he was away, the girls that passed this store were more than obviously of that class where money clearly wasn't an issue. Some of them stared at Tara in her relatively plain clothes, she only having had time to change out of the cleaner's uniform and into a halter that showed the smooth skin of her stomach and a pair of faded denim jeans. In a lot of circles, these would seem to be very smart casual clothes, but the unbridled derision that she saw in the eyes of some of the passers-by made her feel a little inferior, which, of course, they were meant to do, who would want a creature like this in their usual store?
It wasn't long before Xander walked up to Tara, whistling a tune under his breath. He patted Tara reassuringly on the shoulder, having seen a little of what had happened as he had walked up the street, then he took a half step behind Tara, keeping behind her shoulder. Despite some of the incredulous stares coming her way, Tara felt a little better walking towards the store with the solid presence of Xander behind her. They walked in through the front door and Xander steered Tara with a gentle touch towards the front counter. Before they could get there, a young woman, probably not much older than Tara, wearing a shirt not quite buttoned up, a short skirt and heels, walked across, waving at Xander, "hey Xan, who's your friend?"
Xander nodded at the girl as she pushed a magenta dyed lock from her eye and tucked it with the rest of her black hair behind her ear, "Hey Sarah, this is Tara."
Sarah nodded her head and showed them a little further into the store, her gaze taking on a professional look as she sized Tara up, "I heard you and Willow made quite the splash a couple nights ago." Tara just nodded her head, "hmm, how much has she given me to work with?" When Tara gave her a blank look, Sarah nodded towards her pocket, clearly meaning the cheque. Tara took that from her pocket and handed it across, Sarah looked at the cheque and her eyes widened as she gave a low whistle, "she must really like you, I tend to get an amount to go up to."
Tara bit her lip and blushed a little, "sh...she just..."
Sarah smiled softly, "relax. If I know Xander like I do, he's told you to be careful of us born a little better off, I'm not one of those who had a sudden impulse to start dating girls just because Willow did, if you knew how many of them have come in here...I can see why she likes you, you know, there's something kinda different to you than the others." Sarah continued to size Tara up a little, muttering under her breath and she clicked her fingers, a bright smile on her face, "ok, just wait there, I think I know just the dress."
Sarah walked quickly towards the back as Xander sat down with Tara, "don't worry about her. We've known Sarah since our schooldays, I never knew there was a human cheerleader till I met her. Willow helped her get in here and she's one of the best they've got."
Tara looked around the store as she listened to Xander and the two exchanged small-talk for the five minutes it took Sarah to walk back towards them, translucent red fabric folded neatly over her arm. She smiled brightly as Tara stood, "I've been saving this one, honestly, that isn't just something I say to everyone. You want to come try it on?" Tara nodded her head and Sarah held out her hand, taking Tara's softly in hers and leading her towards the dressing rooms, stopping as she got to the door, "sorry Xan, you know the rules, this is as far as you go."
Xander gave her a grin, "how about just this once?"
Sarah shook her head with a resigned sigh, "and how about I tell Willow you wanted to watch her girl get dressed?"
Xander held up his hands in mock surrender, something Tara had noticed that he did a lot...while he knew people were taking notice of him, "you win, I'll just wait out here and act like a typical guy eyeing up every bit of skirt that passes me by."
Sarah gave a pearly laugh, "you're one of the few guys I know who really do have to act, make yourself at home." With that, the two passed through the doors into a changing room that was at least the size of a school lockeroom, a lot prettier and had an assortment of mirrors dotted around the room including the main one that took up an entire wall. Tara took a close look at the dress for the first time and her eyes widened as Sarah held it out for her to look at. Essentially, it was a sturdy corset connected to a skirt of translucent red that fell to Tara's mid-thigh, Tara took a deep breath, "I'm...I'm going to need someone to help me into that."
Sarah grinned, "Even better, you'll need someone to help you out." She winked at Tara, laughing at the light blush. "You want me to turn away while you take your clothes off?" Tara nodded her head and removed what she had worn coming into the store. She looked at the dress, looking for the best way into it.
Slipping it on after a good few minutes of fumbling and Sarah's eventual help, she looked in the mirror as Sarah worked on the string, tightly tying them into place, the effect of which pushing Tara's breasts together and up, hiding enough for the imagination, Sarah twirled her around and purred as she took in what she saw, "you might want to forget the bit about me staying straight...that dress would look good on anyone, but you pull it off my dear." She looked over Tara with a critical eye, "hmm, needs shoes and I think I have something else that would go well with that, one sec."
Sarah disappeared from the room and Tara looked herself over in the mirror. It took her a while but she did warm to the dress, it supported her where she needed to and though it showed off a little more than she would have liked, it showed off the right areas without making her look too much like a slut. It wasn't long before Sarah, exchanging banter with Xander as she neared, came back into the room with a pair of red shoes with short spiked heels and a strap that would hold them in place above her ankle and a choker with what looked like a gem embedded at the front of it, the gem was a pale blue that almost matched Tara's eyes.
Sarah put the shoes down in front of Tara, watching her as she stepped into them and tightened the straps, then she stood behind Tara, brushing back her hair as she placed the choker around her throat, "if you'll listen to me, do nothing with that hair, just keep it loose. I've seen girls that have spent near thousands to get it that soft, you really can't pull it off like someone who has it come naturally." She checked that the strap wasn't too tight before clipping it in place, again turning Tara around, "I think Willow might need to be careful tonight, I'm not sure that party knows what's coming."
Sarah grinned and led Tara, at first meeting a little resistance, out of the door and towards Xander. He looked Tara up and down and grinned, "I told her you're good, Sarah, but I didn't know you were that good."
Sarah smiled, "all in what we have to work with, my dear friend. Are you going to this dig as well?"
Xander shrugged, "not really my kind of scene, though I gather you will be."
"I can't dress up these girls and let them have all the fun now, can I?"
Throughout all of this, Tara could feel how red her face was as she drew attention from those in the store, Xander looked at his watch, "speaking of, I think it's high time we let you get ready and made tracks for home."
Sarah nodded her head and helped Tara out of her dress, making sure that she had someone to help put it on later. She priced and bagged the clothes, filling out the cheque and putting it in the till before waving them from the store.
Faith grunted as she tied the last of the string in place. The shadows had just started to get long outside as she finished helping Tara get ready for the party. She had whistled herself, hardly able to believe the dress that Tara had brought into the house. Though she had had little experience with dresses like these, she had found her nimble fingers good for something other than picking locks and had made light work of the straps.
She looked Tara in the eyes as she turned her around, "be careful T, I mean it."
Tara nodded her head, "I will." She jumped slightly as there was a knock on the door and Faith grinned, "I think that that might be your ride." She kissed Tara on the cheek and handed her the perfume she had only just got around to unpacking, she heard the door open as she sprayed the scent around her neck and shoulders, looking up as her bedroom door opened.
Willow had walked up the stairs with more than a little anticipation. She knew that Tara would look good at the party in anything, but she knew that Sarah always pulled a little something out of the bag and she was eager to see what she had done with Tara. Faith had given her a knowing smile as she had told her which room Tara was in and had knocked softly in the way that people do when they really want to say 'hey, I knocked but no one answered so I thought I'd see what you were doing.' When Tara looked up, Willow took in a deep breath, speechless for a long moment, "wow..."