Tara stood outside the SS building, looking up at the heavy stone fašade, her stomach doing flip-flops. She wasn't doing anything wrong. Well, except she'd lied to Donnie about where she was going. And the thought of being watched by the secret police made her more than a little paranoid. But she sucked up her courage and followed through on her plan.
She walked into the building and headed straight for the front desk. She asked what floor she could find Detective Blood on. Third. She took a deep breath and headed for the stairs. As she entered the third floor foyer her eyes quickly scanned the room. She let out her breath in relief when she spotted the man she'd come to see. She walked quickly to his desk and stood a moment, waiting for him to look up.
"I- I ha- have something for you," she said finally.
Wow. Xander looked up from his file to find Tara Maclay standing before him. She wore a smart-looking suit under a fur-trimmed wool overcoat. She'd removed her hat. She looked more than presentable. She was easily the most beautiful woman to walk onto the third floor in all his time working here. He was struck speechless. And then his brain finally registered the statement she'd given, the one that made him look up in the first place.
"You have something for me?"
"For Detective Blood, actually," she said, but her eyes flashed something else. That wasn't the whole truth.
She raised her arm to reveal a small suitcase. "I thought the authorities should have Wilma Hermann's property-what she'd left at my apartment, in any case. This is everything. I thought- thought maybe you'd fi-find something helpful among her things. And- and I don't expect her to come ba-back for them. I'm leaving them with you. I- I trust you'll know what to do with them."
Xander stared at her dumbstruck, unable to tell for certain what side she stood on. He came around the desk and reached out for the suitcase she offered. "I'll make sure Detective Blood gets this," he assured with an uncertain smile, his heart pounding.
As he accepted the handle, though, he noticed something papery wrapped around its grip. He smiled politely, ignoring it for now.
"Is- is there anything else official that I need to do?" Tara asked, and Xander wasn't sure what she meant. Was she wanting to do everything by-the-book to avoid becoming further ensnared in The Wilma Hermann Experience?
Xander grinned. "I- I think that about does it. I'll make sure Blood sees this. Thank you for being so thoughtful to help us." He paused a moment and she gazed at him expectantly. Oh! He reached onto his desk for a card and quickly jotted down his phone numbers-office and home. He handed the card to her with a quick, "Call me if there's anything you need, or if you come across anything else that might be...helpful."
She accepted the card with a smile. Guess he'd guessed right. "Thank you," she said. Her eyes were warm and relaxed now. She nodded, reluctantly, it seemed, before turning and walking out the way she'd come. Xander watched her go, thinking again how lovely she was. Once she'd disappeared down the stairs, he placed the case behind his desk and unraveled the paper from the handle. It was a small envelope addressed, simply: "Willow."
Xander mused at that. Tara should have addressed it to "Wilma"-right? Even if the agents had told her Willow's real name, Wilma was the woman Tara knew, right? Or did Tara know Willow? And if so, how...and what did that mean? He carefully folded the envelope and stuffed it in his pocket.
On the way home on the bus, Tara watched out the window, her mind a mess. She was noticing new things. Not just the earliest indications that spring was just around the corner. She noticed a police van parked outside a brownstone and officers escorting a family into it. Was it just a coincidence that she was noticing this today? Had she passed by other similar scenes in the past and not noticed? As the bus clambered by the train yards, she looked at the trains sitting at the station as if for the first time. Every German knew that the police used the trains to transport prisoners to work camps. She watched now, wondering which trains might hold passengers bound for the countryside or Munich and which might be headed someplace considerably more grim. She knew the government must rely on this type of labor to help with the war effort. It was helpful to the nation. But she also had to stop and think about the human toll, to have so many people relocated to these internment camps, where they gave up their worldly possessions and status to be laborers. Were the Schragenheims from across the hall working at just such a camp? She thought about Mrs. Schragenheim, with her arthritic hip and wondered how useful she'd be as a laborer. Her mind would allow her to go no further than that.
She watched everyday people walking along the streets, shopping, working, going about their everyday business. She knew each of them must, as she did, wish every day that the war was over and that the nation could rebuild, that they could share in the prosperity of making a better Germany and a more cohesive Europe. Would things really turn out so rosy in the end? It seemed she was only beginning to appreciate a new level of sacrifice being made to ensure this future: not only were good men like Riley and her brother on the line, and not only did every German citizen have to "do without" in order to save resources for the war. But also now the liberties of the people were being sacrificed. Those of the Jews were the most obvious, of course. But now there was also the liberty of speaking out against the war, which was causing a severe backlash at the universities. Someone on the bus today whispered that the arrests had spread now to universities in Munich. Tara herself was under suspicion and surveillance for actions she'd had no knowledge of. She craned her neck to look at the faces of the other people on the bus. The woman with the crying baby. The young soldier with a duffel bag over his shoulder. The older couple sitting primly, their mouths set in straight lines. Were any of these people under the employ of the SS and tasked with following Tara?
She decided she didn't care. Or at least she'd not let it cow her into fear. If she was being followed, then fine. She'd show them what an everyday German woman did every day.
Spike heaved an enormous sigh. Tara Maclay was a pretty but very boring woman. Aside from that thing with Red, of course. Which, now that he thought of it, put a smile on his lips. You just never can tell a book by its cover.
He'd picked up Tara's trail after she'd left SS headquarters. The Harris boy had brought the suitcase in to him. The one that Miss Maclay had been so kind to drop off. He'd invited Harris to stay while he checked out its contents. Of course, he was just yanking the boy's chain. He knew that Red was his friend. Maybe even his girlfriend (though a pretty shitty one, if that were true). So he'd made a great show of inspecting the goods.
"You ever look through something like this before?" Spike had asked the boy.
"No, stupid. Not just a suitcase...evidence."
Harris shook his head.
"Step up, sonny, and let me show you how the pros go about their investigations." Spike knew that Xander would be helpless to leave. He'd want to know what Tara had packed in Red's suitcase. Hell, Spike kind of wanted to know, too, and not in a strictly professional sense.
"So do ladies bring you their luggage often?" the boy joked.
"Don't I wish," Spike had huffed. "Or, on the other hand, that would depend upon the lady. This lady? Yes."
Xander feigned detachment. "Yeah? Why's that?" For a Jewish sympathizer working for the SS, Harris was a rotten liar. Or maybe just when it came to his chums.
"Well, she's pretty, for one. Miss Maclay, I'm talking about." Spike popped open the clasps on the case and opened the lid. "And her lesbian lover Red, too."
Harris visibly paled and seemed to have some difficulty wrapping his tongue around the word: "Uh, le-lesbian, you say?"
Spike smirked. "Yep. As in girl-on-girl. Miss Maclay's brother claims he busted in on them. Says he was pretty shocked, actually. Ever know someone who was, well, like that?"
"No, dim-wit. Queer."
The boy's face was red. "No."
Well, now you do, Spike had thought to himself.
In the meantime, Xander seemed to be turning the concept over and over in his head without it all adding up. "The lady who dropped off the suitcase. You're saying she's a lesbian?"
Spike shrugged. "Part-time one, anyway. Seems she's engaged to an army officer. So there's probably still some hope for her. Plus, she was mightily embarrassed when we questioned her about it. She has quite a cute little blush when she's flustered."
Xander held his tongue. Spike regarded him a moment.
"Well, enough chit-chat. Let's see what Miss Tara has packed here for Fugitive Red." He shot Xander a sidelong glance. "Ever looked inside a lesbian's suitcase?"
Xander shrugged. "Uh, until today I didn't know there was such a thing. Seems like there's a word for everything. And a thing for every word. Go figure."
Yep, young Mr. Harris blushed when he was flustered, too, Spike noticed. He turned the case around on the desk so they both could examine its contents. Spike bit back a grin as his finger caught the waistband of a pair of women's panties. He spun them on his finger a moment or two, appreciatively of course, and then put them down. He ran his hands through the rest of the items there. A couple of nice-looking suits. A few other undergarments, and a very pretty black lace dress.
"Apparently the ladies like to dance. I wonder if Miss Maclay wears the pants."
Spike fully expected Harris to deck him on that one. He could tell the boy was upset. But he kept his cool, saying lightly, "I'll, uh, just leave you here to your laundry sorting. Thanks for the teaching moment. I learned a lot. And now I've got to get back to my desk."
Spike let out a sigh and shoved the suitcase across the desk at him. "Here. Take it. I'm done. There's nothing here. Dispose of it in the usual way," Spike said. But at the last moment he'd grabbed the pair of panties back. "I think I'll keep these as a souvenir," he chuckled, spinning them on his finger again before tucking them in his breast pocket where the lace of them stuck out like a fancy handkerchief.
Xander's eyes were filled with anger, horror and disgust, and he took the suitcase with no comment. The little chummy smile he tried to give fell flat. Spike chuckled inwardly. He'd have to remember to invite Harris over for poker some time.
Xander took the stairs slowly. It wasn't that the suitcase was heavy. It wasn't. Willow owned next to nothing. But he was still fuming over Detective Blood's torture. Of course, Blood had no idea Xander knew the ladies whose honor he was wiping his boots on. He was just being the same evil pig he always was. But then, Xander also now had a rather personal thing he wasn't sure he wanted to know about Willow. Or that Willow would want him to know. Because if she wanted him to know, she'd say something about it, right? In fact, he wouldn't have believed Blood's story at all, if it weren't for the little Willow-addressed letter Tara had passed to him. That had made it all click into place. If there were something important, she'd tell him. He and Buffy and Willow had no secrets, right? The three of them were on the inside of the circle and everyone else was on the outside. That's why they relied on each other and risked for each other, right?
He composed himself and then opened the door to find Buffy and Willow enacting a warm family tableau in his bachelor apartment. Buffy had on an apron (Where did she find that? Xander didn't even know he'd had one). She seemed to be actually cooking something in the kitchen. He'd never imagined her cooking. There wasn't much about her that had ever screamed domesticity. And the teen cross-dresser look just made it seem all the more incongruous.
"You look like I should give you some kind of Scout merit badge. Maybe for science," Xander quipped. Buffy gave him a playful scowl.
"It just so happens I do on occasion cook things," she retorted. "I'm just not sure what it is I'm cooking yet."
"My guess is chicken," Willow piped up from the table where she was hunched over a stack of textbooks. "She's been at it a while. And, well, it smells kind of chickeny."
"I didn't know I had a chicken. Of course, I didn't know I had an apron, either, so maybe you happened upon both of them in the same drawer."
"No drawer," Buffy chirped. "Auntie Willow took me to the butcher shop. And now, what a good auntie, she's helping me with my homework."
Xander put down the suitcase by the door. "Homework? Like a wanted political fugitive can turn in homework assignments?"
Willow looked up sheepishly. "Nah, it's just me. I needed something to do to keep my mind off, well, other things. And, hey, I'm all about doing homework that never gets turned in. The whole learning for learning's sake thing?"
Xander took a seat at the table across from Willow and pulled the little envelope from his coat pocket. His voice was gentle. "Uh, Tara dropped by my office today."
Willow's eyes went wide with what? Surprise? Fear?
"She brought your suitcase...and this." He slid the envelope across the table and watched her expression brighten at the loopy letters that spelled her name.
"She- she brought you my suitcase? As in she walked right into SS headquarters and gave it to you?"
"Up three flights of stairs, and yes." Xander smiled. "I had to let the detective take a look inside the suitcase-you know, for clues or whatever. But then I was told to dispose of it in the usual manner, which I took to mean I could bring it home to you." He decided to omit the part about Spike keeping a pair of her panties. He'd felt violated enough just watching the bastard go through her things. He couldn't imagine how Willow, the owner of said things, would take that nasty bit of...nasty.
Willow looked grateful and puzzled and worried. "The letter. Did they...?"
"She gave me the letter separately. I haven't opened it. It was addressed to you."
She smiled thoughtfully and nodded. "So it is." She fumbled with it nervously, as if she were afraid to open it. Or felt awkward opening it. "How did she...? I mean was she...okay?"
Xander nodded. "She was fine. She really looked great. Walked in like she owned the place. Not nervous at all-well, except for the nervous stutter. But then that's just part of her charm. She took my home phone number. Maybe she'll call."
Their eyes met in kind of a quiet understanding. He wanted her to know he knew and that it was okay. He rubbed her hand affectionately and rose to his feet. "I think I'll go see what chickeny dish the young master is preparing for dinner." With that, he left Willow to herself. And her letter.
The last letter Willow received had been Buffy's mom kicking her out of their house. So her heart pounded wondering what this one might contain. There were any number of reasons that might have spurred Tara to write. For example, maybe she needed to rationalize to herself why it was for the best that she and Willow be apart. Or- or maybe she wanted closure, or whatever. A more formal and wordy good-bye than was possible during their brief telephone exchange. Then there was the possibility she'd say that what had happened between them was a fluke-hopefully of the nice variety, as opposed to something hellfire-and-brimstoney-and that this was the sort of thing they'd both get over. God, she'd die if Tara went on about Riley and how she'd suck it up and marry him and be happy about it, too. Maybe she'd try-and fail-to be more sensitive by suggesting Willow look for some other girl who was more like her and shared more of the same interests. You know, like, survival? Or maybe she'd make Willow's stomach tie in knots by saying that she missed her. Yeah, longing was probably the worst thing Tara could express. Because that would just fuel hope for something hopeless. Willow felt her face redden. There was no way this could turn out good.
Xander tipped his head out of the kitchen. "Will. You're over-thinking again. Just open the thing."
"It's- it's what I do: I think. I'm an over-thinker. And I kinda think I'm going to die."
"Get the squirrels in your attic off the treadmill and open it. Tara cares about you. How bad could it be?"
"I don't know. I haven't thought it through..."
"Will, she brought you your underwear..."
Willow shot him a look.
"...which I so totally did not rifle through or even touch...and, uh, now I'm going to shut up."
Buffy yanked him back into the kitchen, and Willow turned back to the letter.
What she didn't know was that this was only one of two letters Tara had written and sent this day.
A letter from Riley had arrived in the morning mail. Donnie had pulled it from the mailbox with a smile and deposited it on the table before Tara.
"A letter from your future husband," he said a bit too chipperly, she thought. She'd be glad when he was gone. Which was a terrible thought, considering that meant she wished him to go back to the eastern Front, which she certainly did not: She just didn't want to be here with him. It was too hard. They were quickly accumulating animosity between them.
She took the letter to her bedroom and climbed up onto the bed. She hadn't changed the sheets. On purpose. She wanted Willow around her-or at least something of Willow around her-and especially now as she read the letter. She slipped her fingernail under the flap and pulled the letter out. It was relatively short. She smiled as she recognized Riley's handwriting.
"I'm writing for two reasons. First, I feel the need to say how sorry I am about the way we parted. You are my lifeline, my everything when I am out here. I feel so far away from anything human or safe or kind or civilized, and it helps immeasurably knowing you're at home where everything is familiar and normal. It helps me to know that you're carrying on with everyday living when everything here is so surreal and frightening. You are my rock. I love you. You're the bright and shining future I hold on to. You're the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing I think of when I go to sleep. I'm sorry to be away so long and that you worry so much about me.
That's why my second piece of news should brighten your spirits a bit. I've been transferred to a new post. Instead of fighting on the Front Line (guess I'm being rewarded for serving my time here), I'm headed for an administrative post at Ravensbruck. It's a concentration camp for women prisoners of war and their children. Mostly gypsies and Jews. It's not too far north of Berlin. So I'm hopeful that from time to time I'll be able to make it back to Berlin for short visits. And you won't have to worry about me being in the line of fire. I'm headed there immediately, and I'll write again soon. Take care. I love you.
Tara fixed her gaze out the window, trying to imagine what it could mean that Riley was coming off the Front and closer to home. She felt immense relief. She'd always feared the worst for him, and now he'd be out of danger. Ravensbruck sounded like a much better place. She didn't know much about the camps. Germans tended not to think too much about them. She knew there were many, and that for the most part they were collection points for captured enemies who were put to work to support the German war effort. She imagined they were hard places to be-difficult to keep peace and order-but she had never heard or read anything else about places like that, so it was hard to picture what his new job would be like. That Riley was going to be an administrator at a women's camp gave her some hope. He'd be safer. It would be easier for him. He deserved that.
But what did it mean that he'd be closer to home? She looked around her room as if looking at it for the first time. She'd be leaving in a few days-a week tops, maybe. She'd close up these rooms, and along with them her life here. Riley and Willow. A chapter ending? A new one beginning?
She went to her dresser and retrieved some writing paper and a pen and went to her desk.
I'm extremely relieved to hear you've been transferred someplace much safer. I know I'll sleep better at night not worrying about you out there. Please see what you can do to get my brother transferred there with you! I know it's not as easy as that, but I worry about him, too. He's been here the last few days home on leave. We've discussed closing up the house and having me go out to the country to stay with Beth until things cool down here. So it may take a while for your next letter to reach me if you've addressed it here. I'll be sure to leave instructions for the mail to be forwarded.
I know you love me. It's good to hear you say it. And I'm sorry, too, for how we left things. Sometimes I just get angry at having so little of you. I think I took that out on you. I hope it wasn't too much of a burden on your mind. I want you focused on keeping your head down. Don't let thoughts of me distract you from what's important. I love you.
She slid out a second sheet of paper and addressed it to Willow.
The things she wanted to say to Willow she had no words for. Or perhaps that wasn't entirely true, because she'd said some of them aloud. The rest, though, existed more in muscle memory and impulse, in touches both sweet and urgent, in scents and tastes and in sounds decidedly nonverbal. She felt a heat rise in her cheeks as she stared at the page, letting her defenses down gradually, shyly, as if a button at a time. The things she wanted to say were there, just beneath her skin. If only she could will them to flow through ink the way they naturally did through her blood.
You've been gone for only hours and it seems like forever. I can't stand it. I'm sitting here in my bedroom and it feels like our bedroom. It is our bedroom, and I'm wishing you were here. I hope you don't mind that I'm keeping the slip you wore the other night. In return, I'm sending you something of mine to wear.
And this is either the most foolish thing in the world or the bravest. But I love you. I need to find a way to see you.
You're not going to like this next bit: Donald is making me close up the house and go out to the country. I've convinced him to let me stay a week or so before I go. You'd said something once about wanting to ride horses? Maybe there's some way you could visit. I don't know how. And please-though you're clever enough to find some way out there-don't come if it's too much of a risk. I can travel more easily back and forth.
My brain is going over a hundred different plans for how to make this work. I don't know if it can. But it's all I can think about. You're all that I can think about. I have to know what this is. I can't lose you. I only just found you. My need of you...it staggers me.
Willow's heart was pounding. She'd sat holding Tara's letter for what seemed like a half hour. She'd read and re-read the thing, absorbing everything about it: the words, the loveliness of Tara's handwriting, imagining Tara sitting in her bedroom writing the thing, imagining what she must have been thinking when she wrote it, what she must be feeling now, wondering what she was doing right now. It was past 9 p.m. Dinner was over and she and Donnie would be reading the paper, right? And, mostly, she was near exploding at the thought that Tara wanted her in the same way she wanted Tara. This was all something marvelous and new, and, yes, she'd ride a damn horse if she had to just to be near her. In fact, she'd risk very much. In fact, if Xander and Buffy weren't here right now she'd slip out the door and over to Tara's--and damn the secret police, anyway. In fact, she could wait until her friends were sleeping and slip out then. She'd keep to the shadows. She'd wear a dark coat and hat...Thoughts like these kept tumbling in her mind. Each plan more outlandish than the previous one. She even contemplated borrowing Buffy's Hitler Youth costume, except it was bedtime for all the little junior stormtroopers...She dropped her head in her hands, frustrated with the intensity of wanting to be there instead of here.
Buffy bustled into the room and stopped short. "Oh, no," she breathed, her eyes like saucers. "Who died?"
Willow looked up and met a gaze that was absolutely serious and absolutely terrified. Of course, it was the first conclusion any of them would jump to at the sight of emotion. She laughed. It started as a chuckle and then grew. Buffy relaxed and joined in. The tension they'd been holding, trying to keep their shit together with first Giles's and then Jenny's deaths, slowly released. Their laughter was the equivalent of whistling past the graveyard.
"Nobody died. Tara...It was the sweetest letter anybody's ever written me."
"So you're...happy?" Buffy looked like she was trying to guess at charades. Had she guessed right?
Willow nodded, though she knew Buffy could spot the sadness there, too, of course. That girl had an intensity of focus that was sometimes a bit unnerving.
"Yeah. I know that happy tends to look all unhappy these days. But this is definitely happy. And kind of sad, too, I guess."
"Is it more happy or more sad?" Buffy seemed to be testing this notion of shades of un-happiness.
"Definitely more happy. Until I think about it and then it all feels hopeless. That's where the sad comes in. Oh, and there's definitely some mad in there, too. I'm really pissed at Hitler right now. I think I just may have to misspell his name in the paper."
"You mean something like Shitler?" Xander had come in again, carrying a stack of plates and silverware. He motioned for Willow to move the textbooks so he could set the table for dinner. The air was indeed smelling rather chickeny, and Willow was famished. "All assholes get what they deserve in the end, and he'll get his," Xander said lightly.
"Yeah, but I hope it's kinda soon because I don't know how many more nice people I can watch get what that asshole deserves."
"Here, here," Xander agreed. He looked first to Buffy who seemed deep in thought and then at Willow who seemed equally in her own world and wanted to bridge the gap among the three of them somehow. "Wait! I have just the thing to make this little dinner perfect."
Buffy and Willow finished setting the table. Buffy presented her roasted chicken and potatoes, laying them at the center of the table. And Xander brought in three glasses and a tall bottle of what appeared to be Polish Vodka.
"Where in the world did you score something like that?" Buffy chuckled disbelievingly. It was hard to get coffee, let alone imported liquor. And people these days seemed like they could use a healthy supply of both.
"Buffy's friend Spike at the SS office gave it to me today. After he made me promise to come to his next poker game. Well, and that was after he made me help him go through...uh...some evidence...from one of his cases."
Willow frowned and looked at Buffy. "Which one is Spike, again? Is he the SS guy Dawn said you were seeing?"
Buffy looked shocked. "I am not seeing Spike. He and I have...Well, I don't know what we have. A sometime thing, maybe."
The color was rising in Xander's face, and it wasn't from embarrassment. Willow motioned to the meal lain out before the three of them and suggested they eat it. They took their seats in silence and spent a moment dishing up plates. Xander opened the bottle of vodka and liberally poured for the three of them. He slammed his shot, his face still red.
Buffy grasped his hand, and then Willow's, nodding for them to do the same. Willow took Xander's hand in her own. Prayer time?
"Ok," Buffy began. "The three of us. We're a team. We've been a team all along. And the three of us together are going to help keep each other from, you know, getting what Hitler deserves." She looked at both of her friends solemnly. "Amen."
Willow's voice was light, though she definitely caught the tension in the room. "That was a really nice way to keep the prayer, you know, secular."
Buffy shrugged. "As far as I can tell, religion is a perpetrator in this whole war and ethnic cleansing thing. I think the God everyone invokes is really a hell-god. For all the good that's doing, I prefer to place my faith in myself. And a couple of people I care most about in this whole stupid world."
With that, Buffy and Willow swallowed down their vodka.
"Ok, that was some good stuff," Willow nodded. "The Poles know their potatoes. Very nice of your friend Spike to score you a bottle."
Xander's face was still dark. "Her 'friend' Spike is the guy who wants you dead," he said flatly.
Willow blinked, and Buffy sighed heavily.
"Of course, Xander. Everybody at the SS wants me dead. I'm a Jew and therefore in need of cleansing. It's ok. I don't take it personally any more."
"You don't understand. Spike. Killed. Jenny. And he's the guy who showed up at Tara's for you. He's the detective. William Blood. He's probably out there right now tailing Tara waiting for the two of you to slip up."
The room was starting to spin with fragments of new information.
"Whoa," Buffy said. "What do you mean that he's waiting for Tara and Willow to slip up? Slip up how?"
"Wait," Willow interrupted. "What do you mean you're having a 'sometimes thing' with the guy who killed Jenny?"
Yeah, she's having sex with the guy who is going to kill you."
Buffy shot back at Xander: "And what do you mean you're going to play poker and chum around with this guy if he's so bad? Which I'm not denying-the bad part--by the way."
Who first? There was so much that needed to be said.
Buffy downed another shot of vodka and decided to go first.
"Spike is not my boyfriend. He's not my lapdog. He's bad. He's in it all for himself. I pay him money and he gets me papers. Ironically, he arranged to get Jenny and Giles' papers. Anyway, he's not someone we can trust. But who knows? Maybe he's got just enough of a soul to let things slip every here and there. Like he let me pass when he and his partner had me cornered at the university fair and square. And he showed me your picture, Willow, because I think he wanted me to know he was following you and that he knew what you looked like."
"He knows I'm your friend?" Willow's voice was small and troubled. "Should I even be anywhere near you?"
"I think he's cutting us some slack, but he's SS, so he can't let us completely off the hook. He has that partner..."
"The Preacher," Xander filled in. "Creepy black eyes. Way more evil than Spike. Spike just thinks he's bad. That Preacher Caleb is the real deal."
"So that means The Preacher would probably turn on your friend Spike in a heartbeat if he thought something were amiss," Willow ventured.
"Maybe. They're all a bunch of jackals," Xander grumbled.
Willow turned to Xander. "So you work with them. Do you think Spike knows you're Buffy's friend, too?"
Xander pondered this a long moment. "God, I hope not. He's always treated me the same way: like I'm a doorstop. Well, until today."
"What happened today?" Buffy asked.
Xander and Willow exchanged glances. Buffy nodded at him. "Come on. Let's get everything out. No secrets."
"Well, today, he invited me over for poker. But that wasn't until after he had me help him rummage through the suitcase Tara brought in for Willow."
Buffy shook the cobwebs from her head. "Tara walked into SS headquarters with a suitcase for Willow?"
Xander sighed. "She played the game. Handed it to me with instructions to give it to the lovely Detective Blood. But she was palming a letter for Will when she handed it over. I kept the letter to give Willow. And gave the suitcase to Spike. He and I had a bonding moment over your underwear. Which I'm so very sorry about! I am trying to black out those memories! God help me! But after a cursory look through your things he gave it back to me. To dispose of. I suppose he could have known I'd bring it to you. Maybe he even wanted you to have it. I'm just really confused. He should be here right now if he really knew I was a part of this. I have student dissident Buffy and Jewish fugitive Willow staying at my apartment eating chicken and drinking vodka."
"So maybe he is cutting us some slack," Buffy said. "Did he say anything else?"
Xander looked uncomfortably at Willow.
"He, uh. He told me some things about you and Tara I'd rather not repeat."
Willow felt the heat rise up into her face and her stomach did a flip-flop. "What did he say?"
Xander wouldn't meet her eyes. It took him a moment to put the words together: "He said you and Tara are, uh, close."
"Close?" Buffy's eyes narrowed.
Xander let out a deep breath. "He said you are Tara are, uh, lovers."
There was a pause and then Buffy jumped in. "Well, that just sounds like Spike yanking your chain, Xander. Just typical bullshit..."
"It's true." Willow's voice was barely a whisper, but she didn't look away. She looked at her friends helplessly. "...And it gets worse. I'm in love with her."
She kept going, fueled by fluster. "And see, this is wherein the happy and sad thing becomes an issue. Because she loves me, too. Even though I totally lied to her about the Jewish thing, and her brother is sending her to live out in the country, and now the Gestapo is following her around. Oh, and I'm screwing up her thing with Riley. I just couldn't help it. And her letter to me-the one she gave to Xander-it's clear she can't help it, either. She loves me. She wants to see me."
It took a couple of moments of silence and toe scuffing on the floor, but then her friends got over the initial shock of Willow's confession. Xander smiled softly, tipping the vodka bottle to fill Willow's glass again. She really looked like she needed it. "You're a very lovable person. I'm glad that someone finally sees it and appreciates you for it."
Buffy was more pragmatic. "I hope this whole thing isn't a trap."
"So how do you like your lunch?" Xander asked his date. He was in uniform from the office, enjoying the ambience of the nice hotel restaurant as a break from the boring sandwiches he usually ate at his desk. And enjoying the company of Tara. The young woman was distracted. She kept looking over her shoulder, as if the long days of being followed by the secret police had trained her to be overly cautious and scared. She hadn't eaten a bite of her food. Xander would have been offended, but then he understood what she was feeling. He knew that Tara would foot the bill anyway. And he was more than happy to spend a little time with her even if her thoughts were a bit elsewhere.
"So you said that Spike and The Preacher are on another assignment today?" she asked with some trepidation.
Xander nodded. "I make it my job now to know their agenda. That's not to say that they wouldn't change their minds and follow some other lead if one presented itself. But Spike's been a fairly regular kind of guy as of late. And their focus is really on the universities right now."
"I can't believe how many people they've rounded up. Where are they taking them?"
Xander frowned, not certain Tara would really want to know. But then, after the Vodka and Chicken summit at his apartment a few days ago they'd all agreed to be completely honest with each other. He took a deep breath. "I think the first wave-the folks they rounded up in the first two or three days--they executed on the spot. Buffy watched one of her friends get shot right in front of her. Unfortunately that same friend was keeping our Gypsy friend Jenny at her house. And that's how Jenny got caught..."
Tara looked upset at she took in the information, but she held his gaze, so he continued. "The men, they're sending to Bergen-Belsen in the west. The women I expect will go to Ravensbruck north of here. That's the women's concentration camp."
Tara grimaced. "That's where Riley's stationed now. He sent a letter saying he's been assigned to administration there."
Xander pondered that a moment. "Huh. Better than the front lines. For Riley, anyway. But those camps I hear are pretty depressing places. They have a hard time controlling illness. A lot of people get sick." For Tara's sake, he tried to keep the contempt out of his voice. Concentration camps were a travesty. There was talk that the government was setting up "death camps" in Poland to deal with the millions of undesirables they were accumulating on their eastward march.
Tara nodded unhappily. Xander was saying aloud-and rather casually-some of the things she'd worried about when she'd first heard Riley's news. Her fiancÚ might in fact make it home alive after the war. But there was no way he was going to come home unscathed.
"Any idea how long the student campaign will last?"
Xander shook his head. "I'm not privy to any strategy talk. I just know the things I hear in the halls after the fact. I expect they'll keep at it for a while. It takes time to root out their targets. And they want to be sure that people don't forget this. They're making a statement."
Tara's eyes drifted around the room again.
Xander smiled. "Don't worry. She'll be here," he said, reaching across the table to pat Tara's hand.
Tara smiled at him. "I know she'll be here. I just don't like all the uniforms is all. Makes me nervous for her...And me, too, I guess. And you."
"We've made it this far by blending in with the crowd. Willow's a clever girl. Besides, she has Buffy and me to help make sure everything's ok."
Just then a woman passed brusquely by their table, moving in a straight line for the back of the restaurant. Tara glanced up to see a long black coat and a black hat. No red hair. She frowned in disappointment.
"How will I know when she gets here?" Tara asked.
Xander's face was impassive, but his eyes smiled. "That was Willow. Wait a minute and then follow her."
Tara looked surprised, clearly trying to reconcile the matter-of-fact woman who walked by with the girl she knew.
Xander chuckled. "She's got the full Wilma thing going today."
Tara blushed and she swallowed hard, like it took everything for her to remain seated. Then she quietly collected her coat and purse and rose to her feet, sparing Xander one last glance. "Thank you," she whispered, squeezing his shoulder affectionately.
"Think nothing of it," he said. "Maybe we can meet again for lunch some time. When you make it back to the city."
"I'd like that," she smiled, meaning it. And then she was gone, walking her own confident beeline to the back of the restaurant.
Xander reached for the check. She'd left money there to pay the bill. He waited patiently for the waiter to come, humming to himself a bit.
Tara pushed open the door to the women's lounge, her heart in her mouth. There inside was Willow. She'd dropped the coat and hat and was standing at the mirror powdering her nose. The bright look she gave Tara as the door swung open almost knocked Tara over. Her eyes were round and hopeful. And filled with desire. Tara knew that Willow's expression must have mirrored her own.
Tara trained her hearing to determine whether they were alone. They were not. She slid into the room and joined Willow at the mirror, fumbling to find a lipstick or something in her purse so that they might both appear to be occupied by the sort of activities women do in places like this. Willow smiled and leaned into Tara's shoulder in a happy nonverbal hello, sending tingles through her body at the contact.
A woman left the restroom stall behind them and went mechanically to the sink, washed her hands quietly and then left. As the door swung closed, Willow caught Tara's eye in the mirror, her look slyly darkening from detachment to need, and she grabbed Tara by the arms, pushed her up against the back of the door and kissed her. Tara circled her arms around Willow and pulled her in closer, needing to feel the contour of them together, almost as if verifying their coupleness by testing the familiarity of the way their bodies fit. Willow shifted, locking herself firmly in place.
"God, I've missed you," Willow breathed into her ear, slipping to nip at Tara's throat.
"I had to see you."
Willow kissed her words into Tara's skin. "I know. I had to see you, too. Need you."
"How long do we have?"
Willow slipped back, pulling Tara with her to the mirror again. "I don't know. Maybe a couple of hours?"
A moment later the door swung open again, this time admitting a small woman in a heavy black head scarf. It took Tara a moment to realize it was Buffy. Willow was grinning as Buffy held out her hand and deposited a key in Willow's palm.
"Don't say I never did you any favors," Buffy quipped, a smug smile on her face. She turned and gave Tara a quick hug. "Be good to my girl, " she said and then slipped back out the way she came.
Tara blushed as she caught the drift of the plan. Willow gazed happily at her in the mirror. "You go up first. I'll be right behind you. Hurry, though. I've missed you."
Tara accepted the room key with a broad smile. She kissed Willow's cheek and then headed out for the hotel lobby. She'd never been in this hotel before, but she made her way easily across the foyer to the grand staircase, walking as if she belonged here. She climbed the stairs, taking a moment to glance down at the room number to ascertain which floor she was her destination. Her shoes made a steady and reassuring clacking sound with each step. When she finally found the door, she took in a deep breath and opened the lock, opening it to reveal a simple but nicely-appointed room. The heavy curtains were drawn so that it was dark, but the heating registers clanged with their hot-water hiss, and Tara was grateful the room was warm. She stepped inside and closed the door. She moved to the window and drew open the drapes. She wasn't going to spend her short time with Willow in darkness. There was a table with two chairs. She dropped her hat and coat across one of the chairs and scanned the rest of the room. There was a comfortable-looking bed, a telephone and a dresser.
A moment later there came a soft knock upon the door. Tara opened it and let in Willow, stopping only a moment to hang the do-not-disturb sign on the outside door handle before closing it firmly behind them and twisting the lock.
She turned, her mouth suddenly dry.
They hesitated only a second or two and then both began to remove their clothes as quickly as possible, not touching yet, but watching each other as if they hadn't seen each other in months. It wasn't lost on Tara that she'd never felt this kind of need for Riley no matter how long they were apart. Tara felt the pumping of her blood as her heart raced. Willow finished undressing first and took deliberate steps across the floor to Tara, reaching her hands around Tara's back to gather the fabric of her slip and draw the soft material up over Tara's head and arms. She stopped a moment to admire Tara's breasts, a small, sweet smile playing at the corners of her mouth. Then she placed her hands gently on Tara's hips and slid her underwear down.
Willow looked Tara up and down a moment. "God, you're beautiful," she crooned, and then dragged both of them over to the bed with a momentum that landed Tara on top of Willow. Tara slid her hands under her lover, pushing them both up onto the bed completely and then sank into a deep kiss, her body screaming at the sensations of Willow's cool skin, the shifting of muscles as Willow moved beneath her, the instinctual tangling of their legs together. Hands were suddenly everywhere, running up and down her back, tousling her hair, moving to caress her breasts, clutching needily at her thighs. And Tara was on fire. She couldn't think about what the hell she was going to do tomorrow-or even two hours from now. She couldn't think about the farm or Riley or the detectives. Her entire focus was on this small space-this square of a room and its square of a bed. Unfamiliar and unremarkable except for the woman writhing beneath her.
"My life was a lot simpler before you," Tara whispered some time later, looking up at the ceiling. Willow tucked herself closer, laying her head on Tara's shoulder.
"I know," Willow whispered. They fell silent for a while, and then she ventured a very small, "I'm sorry."
Tara frowned, feeling uncertain. She stroked Willow's arm and twirled a bit of her long hair in her fingers. "Actually, my life was pretty boring."
That brought a smile to Willow's face. "Boring. It's so hard to imagine. It's never boring in my world. I sometimes wish it was. But, you know, double the identities means double the fun...or trouble...or just double the double..." Willow waved her hand as the thought fizzled.
"I was so certain how my life story would go..."
Willow nodded. "Yeah, I think I know that story. Read about it once or twice." There was nothing grudging in her voice, a small playfulness, in fact, and Tara realized that maybe for Willow part of the thrill of living was the absurdity of it all. Making it up as she went. Playing at living. And Tara had been drawn in, more than happy to play, too.
She gave Willow a nudge in reply. "Hey, there's a difference between book learning and the actual living of it."
Willow propped herself up so she could see Tara's face. Her eyes were gentle but more serious. "I'm not saying that I have specific knowledge of how your life was meant to go before I came along and metaphorically blew up the railroad trestle. I just meant in a general sense. As in generally girls grow up, do some sort of domestic service, find a guy to marry them and then become wrapped up in family. At least that's the way it seems from the outside. From a news reporterly perspective, anyway."
"Well, that's about right," Tara nodded. "Except you forgot the part where the girl generally never questions any of the steps along the way. There's just this script, and you follow it."
Willow nodded. "I have a hard time with the not-asking of the questions. Maybe that's why my personal script is less a script, per se, and more improvisation."
Tara smiled in spite of herself. "Well, improv-girl, perhaps you haven't noticed, but I haven't exactly followed the script, either. And I don't mean just lately. Have you wondered why a 28-year-old woman isn't already married? Do you wonder what I've been doing all this time?"
Willow looked confused, as if she were seeing Tara differently. "Are you a spy?" she asked without a bit of irony. Life in Willow's world must be very cloak-and-daggers, indeed.
"Um, no," Tara chuckled. "I'm just a bit of a nonconformist. In my own way."
"These days that's just about as bad," Willow chuckled, rubbing her hand in small circles on Tara's belly. The motion was instantly distracting. Tara had half a mind to let the sexual tension build between them again. It would be so easy. She could definitely stand to hear Willow's growl as Tara made her come again. In fact, she made a point to add that to this afternoon's agenda: more sex. But first, there were words.
"I need...I don't know. I guess all this time I've just needed to feel something raw and dangerous. So when things became too comfortable I'd get cold feet and back out. I've been with a few men and near to marrying a couple of them. My family thinks I'm a freak. But I can't describe how suffocating it's felt to me. Maybe I'm meant to be alone. Who knows. But it makes me scared...about us."
"Us? There's an 'us' in this equation somewhere?" Willow asked doubtfully. Her eyes spoke volumes about her insecurity. How could a girl who was so transparent have escaped protective custody for so long? So many years of wearing her fragile heart on her sleeve.
"Of course, sweetie. This is all about the us, as in you and me, and what am I to do with you."
Willow's voice tightened almost imperceptibly. "Just say you'll come visit me once in a while. Not enough so that you get to feeling suffocated or bored or get tired of me talking all the time. If it helps with the dangerous part, I'll come up with some outrageous hobby, like maybe fortune-telling. Jenny taught me some tarot card reading. A little palm reading. I- I could get Xander to give me another new identity, maybe as a university professor debunking the dark arts and then on the side I could do readings for people. Maybe make a little extra money...No, wait, I have an even better idea for something even more dangerous..."
"Ok, stop. Believe me. Being with you is already more dangerous than anything else I've done. By far."
"Do I scare you?" Wow. Tara was really hitting all of Willow's buttons. She felt uncharacteristically oafish-she who was usually taking great care with everyone else's feelings-was apparently trampling Willow. Did she mean to? Was she testing Willow's bravado? Or was she merely trying to be honest, and being honest right now was being confused.
"No, you don't scare me. I love you. You're right as rain. It all feels so amazing. Everything about you. But the world isn't just the two of us. It's everybody else that makes me scared."
Willow sighed, knowing she was in a no-win situation. Tara loved her, but loving was only half the battle. Or maybe even a third. Because there was always the looming question of "what then?" Would Willow suffocate her? Could she actually make a life with a woman in 1940s Germany? And, depending how she answered those two questions, wasn't Tara objectively better off with Riley, with whom she could at least start a family? She wasn't 20 anymore. Or 23 or 25. These days women her age were on to their third children by now.
Willow leaned down and kissed Tara's lips, smiling sweetly, radiating nothing but love. "Baby, everybody else makes me scared, too. And I, for one, can attest that sometimes just breathing is scary enough."
"I- I'm scared for you. For us."
"I know. I am, too. But it's ok." Willow was making those small circles on Tara's belly again-the ones that were probably meant to be comforting, but actually were so damn distracting. She bent down and kissed along Tara's throat to her collarbone, doing the thing that Willow seemed to do best: turn her on.
"What are you doing?" Tara asked with a sly smile.
"Making the scaries go away. At least for a little while."
Willow popped her head up again, concerned and a little fearful. "Too much?"
Tara smiled and smoothed a lock of hair behind the girl's ear. "Nowhere near too much. I want very much. I want more than much. Just one last thing, though." With that, she twisted off the ring she was wearing on her right hand and held it up.
"That's Riley's ring," Willow noted, a bit uncertainly.
"Nope. It's mine. His is at home."
"Is this like a backup ring for when you go out, so his doesn't get lost or something?"
Tara chuckled. Willow could be so dense. "No, sweetie. This is not some backup ring. This is my ring. One my mother gave me. It used to be hers. Anyway, it's mine and I want you to have it."
"I- I don't think I could accept something like that. It's- it's your mother's ring. It's special to you. It's your ring. And, uh, why is Riley's ring at home?"
Tara took Willow's hand and slipped the silver band on her ring finger, shushing her with a kiss. "Don't fight with me about this. You'll lose. I want you to have it."
"But why? What's it supposed to mean?" There was so much in Willow's eyes just then: fear, hurt, longing, hope, caution. It made Tara's heart hurt. She felt all of those things as well. But there was one other thing in Willow's eyes: powerlessness. She was worried that Tara was teasing. Tara knew the tone of her next words had to be just right.
"It means I love you. This ring is a part of me and I want you to have it because if you do, you'll always have a part of me with you. I want to think of you wearing it. I want you to have something that's important to me...because you are..."
"But you're not leaving Riley." Willow cut straight to the chase, her eyes dead serious now.
"No," Tara said with more certainty than she felt. She couldn't overpromise. "Me giving you this ring isn't about Riley. It's about us."
"But what about Riley? He's kind of the big pink elephant in the room. How can I just, I don't know, overlook him and- and the fact that you're marrying him and when you do, then what you and I are doing now won't just be immoral in the one sense. You know, the 'unnatural' sense. It'll be adultery, too, which would make it doubly bad. And that's on top of the Jewish thing, too. So, aw, fuck. This is a total train wreck. I can't believe I'm even doing this. Fuck!" Willow had disengaged from Tara and now sat on the edge of the bed gazing into the daylight streaming into the hotel room.
Tara lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling. Well, that didn't go right. She sighed, trying to mentally pick up the broken shards of conversation strewn all about them. She reached out her hand and wrapped it around Willow's wrist, rubbing her thumb along the skin there.
"Baby, this is probably already adultery. And, yes, it's immoral in ways too numerous to count. Or even bother with. All I know is that everything does not come back to Riley. If it did, things would be simple. And I wouldn't be here. But it's not that simple because everything does not come back to Riley. And that's because, for me, it all comes back to you."
Willow peered over her shoulder. "Whatever that means."
Tara smiled. "Yeah. Whatever that means. I'm still trying to figure it all out."
"I'm the one who generally overthinks everything. And, huh, go figure. I'm not the only one."
Tara propped herself up on one elbow and ran slow circles along the skin of Willow's back, making the girl shiver. "Thinking can be over-rated. Sometimes you just go with your gut. And my gut really wants you to wear my ring. And be my girl. And for me to be your girl."
Willow crawled back onto the bed and straddled Tara, a playful smirk on her face. "Your gut, huh? You should listen to it more often. You are very gutsy."
Tara relaxed, running her fingers up and down Willow's thighs. "Maybe I'm just very easy."
Willow leaned down. "That, my dear, is a given. I like easy. It's really good on you."
"You're really good on me."
"Vixen. You probably say that to all the girls. Or boys?"
"Only to the girls. The girl. As in only one: You."
"Singular is definitely better than plural. Except in the plural 'we,' as in us, you and me."
"So many pronouns."
"Don't get me thinking about diagramming sentences. Definitely not sexy."
Tara reached up with both hands, cupping Willow's face gently and drawing her in for a tender kiss.
Willow pulled back a moment, nodding breathlessly. "Great idea. Less talking. More kissing."
Tara kissed Willow again, thinking back to her earlier agenda item. What was it again? Oh, yes: more sex with Willow. That plan of spending a couple of hours was quickly going out the window. Tara intended to keep Willow here the rest of the day.
Spike stood stomping his feet in the cold. Damn, he was ready for spring. More than ready in fact. He'd had a rotten and disconcerting day. He was tired of dragging away crying 20-year-olds and loading them on trucks bound for the camps. He could barely still summon the righteous indignation required to believe that these kids were truly enemies of the state. He personally didn't feel that the kids could possibly build enough traction to overcome the fear the German people lived with that prevented them from even thinking bad thoughts about the government. But maybe the powers-that-be were right: The minute somebody declares the emperor has no clothes is the minute the tide of public opinion turns. Until then, every one of us is complicit.
It made his head ache to think about it. So instead he admired the bouquet of flowers he'd just laid at the foot of his mother's grave. At this time of year, they'd cost him a few deutschmarks, that's for sure.
"Mother, I've been a very bad boy," he intoned, smiling at the understatement. "These are very bad times. I'm rather glad you missed them, and you should be, too. Nothing but trouble these days. Dog-eat-dog and all that. And we're all dogs: German shepherds, Dalmatians, Dachsunds, poodles. I'd like to think I'm a Rottweiler. But I'm probably a poodle. I hope one day to see you again. But I somehow expect that none of us 'God's Chosen People' will make it to the glorious place you're at. In fact, for all I know Heaven is full of Jews and Gypsies, and the joke is really on the rest of us."
And speaking of jokes, where was Buffy? She'd called him up and told him to meet him here in the middle of the afternoon. And to bring flowers for his mother. He'd been standing here 15 minutes already with his hands in his pockets conversing with a slab or marble like a madman.
Then he noticed a young lad out of the corner of his eye. The boy was laying flowers at another grave nearby.
"Great," he mumbled, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. "Company."
The boy approached. It wasn't until he had come within 10 feet that Spike understood what was up.
"Holy mother of Christ. You're a fucking Boy Scout now?"
It was Buffy. She made a rather handsome Hitler Youth, and that knowledge disturbed him quite a lot--the "handsome" part, particularly. "You have got to be kidding me."
Buffy smiled an angry little smile. Could a smile be angry? Guess so.
"Yeah. University was getting a little too tough for me, so I decided to go remedial."
"The cross-dressing thing is nice. Suits you."
"So I've been told. Apparently it's a hit with the gentlemen as well as the ladies."
He frowned uncomfortably. "Is this why you wanted to meet--to show off the new you?"
"Not exactly. Though you realize I'm taking a big risk in showing you my new get-up."
"You're taking a big risk just by breathing."
She scuffed her feet at the grass. "Yeah, that, too, I suppose. Anyway, I wanted to thank you. You know--for protecting me when you could have picked me up. I was on your list."
Spike shrugged. "There are a lot of people on the list. Seemed little harm enough in letting one get away. Can't promise it'll happen again."
"No, I understand. Like you couldn't protect Giles or Jenny."
Spike's ears pricked up." So I was right you knew the Gypsy. I'll have you know I helped you get her away from the professor's apartment. Sent my men over here to the cemetery to look for you. And I know you think I'm a monster--but I made sure it was me who..." He searched for a word that wouldn't earn him a right hook to the jaw. "I made sure I was the one who captured Jenny--and not that evil, woman-hating fuck of a partner of mine. I couldn't save her. But I could show...mercy...and at least a little human decency."
He didn't know why saying it made his eyes sting. Maybe it was because he could tell that his words upset Buffy. She stood beside him, gazing at his mother's gravestone as if paying her respects. Maybe she was paying Jenny hers.
"This is way fucked up," she mumbled. She reached up and wiped away a tear, like a young lad trying to be strong. "What about Willow?" she asked.
Spike chuckled in spite of himself. He had her underwear in his coat pocket right now. "Red's a bit of a shocker, really. Although considering your attire here, I'd say the pair of you could be the belle and the beau of the ball."
"Not funny," Buffy scowled. "Are you still on her tail?"
"More or less. We're following her girlfriend around a bit right now. Imagine if they're lovebirds they'll find a way to see each other eventually. Tara was quite upset when we poked through her apartment. But I have to say Tara's a bit of a bore, really. Just shops for groceries, mostly. Your friend would be better to find a more exotic girl."
Buffy sighed, ignoring that last part. "What could I pay you that would get you to drop Willow?" Buffy gritted her teeth, waiting for her answer. She knew what she asked was a pretty risky thing for Spike.
"Caleb's already on my case for going easy on the Gypsy. He thinks I know Willow. Which I don't. But anyway--he sees I'm soft on them, and he called me on it. If I screw up again you won't have me to come to for your visas...or anything else, I'm afraid."
"Tell me how cases like this get transferred away. Tell me anything I can do to make this work."
Spike regarded her with some amusement. "So did you cut your hair for her?"
She shoved him. "Again with the not funny. She's my best friend. She's like family. She's practically all I've got."
"Other than your mom and little sister." Spike left the words hanging there--a wakeup call.
Buffy turned on him. "Don't you dare bring them into this."
"I'm only saying you're a wanted woman. They will be interrogated. I trust you've told them nothing and you've stayed far away. Am I right?"
"Good girl. They'll be fine." A beat and then: "Where have you been staying?"
Buffy sighed. "I'm sure you know."
Spike shot back: " I assure you I don't. Did you see my surprise at your little makeover? Last time I saw you was that day at the university." He paused and added: "Red's been a bit scarce, too, I'm afraid. We've lost her trail."
"Am not. I've been completely truthful with you."
Buffy crossed her arms. "All right then. Tell me who else you know about."
Spike looked at her dubiously. He didn't want to say it. Didn't want it to be real. But he blew out a trail of smoke and replied, "That kid Alexander Harris. I have got to say he's one stupid fuck operating right under the SS's noses. I'd had no idea until I spotted you two together one day. And well, then Tara brought him Red's suitcase, and that really clinched it in my mind."
Buffy slapped her forehead. "Ok. Ok. The three of us. How much do you want to completely leave us alone--call off the dogs?"
Spike thought of himself again as a poodle in Rottweiler's clothing. "Shit."
"Remember Xander's on the inside with you. Maybe there's some--I don't know--paperwork the he could help with?"
Spike shook his head. "When you and Red turn up dead or as captives, that's when they'll reassign us."
Buffy took a deep breath. "What about if Caleb were out of the picture?"
Spike grinned. "You really are desperate--that you'd stoop to murder?"
"Oh. Uh, incapacitation?"
"I have to hand it to you. The three of you and Miss Maclay are tricky. You've got a lot going on upstairs. Maybe I should be watching my step."
Buffy shook her head and took his hand in hers. "No. You've done good. You saved my life. You were...merciful.. .with Jenny. I owe you so much. I just want the people I love to be safe."
Spike wondered ruefully if that included him. Was he a person she loved? He didn't want to ask. He hadn't the stomach to hear her lie. So he let her words stand at face value. And that was enough.
"You really don't know where Willow is?"
"I've got nothing on her. You want to give me something--point me in some hopeless direction? Or is she missing and you have no idea, either?"
Buffy shook her head. "No." She paused. "We'll just stay as far out of your way as possible."
"I won't know how to find you, then?"
She smiled. "You never did before, eh?"
He had to give her that. She was an angel who appeared from time to time on his doorstep.
"I'll find you," she said.
"I'll do my best not to find you."
He crushed out his cigarette and then bent down quickly to flick the thing away, remembering this was his mother's grave they were standing on. "Sorry, mom. Manners," he mumbled.
He gave Buffy one more long glance and then said, "Guess you'd better run off to school, young lad."
Buffy squeezed his hand and turned, smiling back at him a little.
He watched her walk away, wondering when next they'd cross paths. He hoped it was a long time from now. Sometime after the war, when they were no longer on opposite sides. His chest felt tight. He stood still and let her go.