"You need to wipe that smug look off your face, Red, it's unbecoming," Faith sat herself down at Willow's desk and leaned over to check out Willow's screen.
Willow hurriedly closed the email window, she was reading Tara's latest email.
"Get off my desk, Faith. Go harass someone your own size," she complained, trying to push Faith physically off her desk.
Faith wasn't that easily deterred. With one hand she pushed Willow's head away, while reaching for the mouse to bring the email window back up. Willow tried to stop her but she was too strong.
"Don't work too hard, okay?" Faith read Tara's message in an outrageous and high-pitched impersonation of a cute accent. "Oh Christ, she works there? Classy," she was looking at Tara's email address. "She doesn't know, does she?"
Faith leaned close and whispered in Willow's ear. "That you are a geek, nerd and dork combined. That you have an unhealthy obsession with an anime character whose sole purpose is to titillate the hormones. That you work with computers and spend all your spare time playing with computers."
"I wonder how she'd react when she finds out. If I were her, I'd never see you again. You're delusional if you think you can get away with it," Faith laughed and went off to torture someone else.
Willow decided she really hated Faith.
You're a pretty one, aren't you, no wonder. I see you coming out of your office flanked by your two tarts. You're too good for them.
You even eat demurely. Your slender fingers gracefully tear the bread apart and slip it into your mouth.
There is a large apple tree outside your house, it partially blocks the view into your window.
You have no freaking idea, do you.
For the past two days, Tara couldn't help the feeling that she was being watched. It was bad enough that the news decided to focus on serial killers and Silence of the Lambs was on TV last night. As much as Tara admired Jodie Foster, she could only watch the film part of the way before her overactive imagination started making her paranoid.
She asked if Willow would join her for a quick dinner after work. Willow enthusiastically agreed.
Willow kept apologizing for what she called the "surfing incident" but Tara wouldn't hear of it. "This will eventually become a standing joke with us," she giggled.
Willow was too overcome by the mention of "us" to do more than nod and smile stupidly.
The dinner conversation was pleasant, though Tara was more subdued than Willow remembered. She didn't want to mention anything, they hadn't known each other long enough.
"I didn't realize how late it is," Willow mentioned on the train home. "Do you want me to walk you home?"
Tara's first impulse was to blurt out "yes" but she hesitated. What about Willow going home afterwards? "I'll be fine. You need to get home yourself," she said regretfully.
"Are you sure? You seem distracted tonight. Something bothering you?" Willow's concern finally got better of her reticence.
"Um, no. Sorry if I wasn't very good company. It's my stop," Tara said quietly.
"Night, Tara. Take care, I'll email you tomorrow," Willow said.
Tara stood up as the train approached the station. She looked back at Willow and made an uncharacteristically impetuous decision. She took Willow's hand and gently pulled her off the train. Willow's expression turned from surprise to questioning. For a moment, Tara wondered if she did the right thing.
"Actually, do you mind walking me home?" She ducked her head and asked shyly.
Willow struggled under the weight of two huge brown paper bags she was trying to juggle, and which were obscuring her line of sight.
She was glad that the office building had automatic sliding doors, so she didn't have to worry about knobs or handles. After stepping into the lobby she looked around, trying to spot ...
"Willow! Are you alright?" Tara emerged from the elevator and spied Willow tottering her way in. She tried to grab one of the paper bags, to relieve Willow's load, but the redhead wouldn't budge. Tara led them to a set of comfortable leather chairs in the lobby area.
Willow placed the bags on the table and announced, "I bought you some things you might be able to use."
She rummaged a bag and laid out the contents, item by item.
"Anti-crime buzzer, pepper spray, bug detector, cellphone jammer, 360-degree camera, whistle ... " Willow rattled off the description of each item as Tara watched, her expression growing more astonished by the second.
"... stun gun," Willow added the last of her treasures to a small pile on the table. But that was only the content of one paper bag. As Willow reached into the other bag, Tara dreaded that it would be more strange gadgets.
"Plus," Willow presented a thick scrapbook, "I've put together a list of things you can do to deal with stalkers."
Tara took the scrapbook in her hands, on the cover in large block capitals was written "Anti-Stalker Manual." Inside it contained glued-in pieces of paper, neat handwriting in different colors, diagrams, charts and lots of tiny post-it notes.
"I tried to compile as much information as I could. The most relevant parts are highlighted, the highlighting color scheme is there, on the last page," Willow explained.
"You did this in one day?" Tara asked, overwhelmed by how Willow meticulously and ... lovingly ... put together the manual. "Willow, this is so ... I'm very touched."
"I was worried," Willow said. "I hate the thought of someone hurting you."
"Sorry I sounded in such a panic last night. In the light of day I feel kind of silly," Tara said.
"Oh no! Don't stop being vigilant. It's when you start getting complacent, then they strike. Um, that's what the articles said," Willow said sheepishly, hoping that she hadn't alarmed Tara unnecessarily.
"Thank you," Tara whispered. "I really appreciate this. I don't know what I'd do if I hadn't called you."
"I'm glad you did. And, Tara, I think I should walk you home from now on, I know I'm small and not your ideal bodyguard, but I was thinking two people is more of a deterrent than one. I can't stand by and do nothing."
Tara looked up at Willow's earnest expression. "I can't ask that of you, it's too much trouble."
"It's no trouble at all. And it'll make me feel better. Let's try it for a few days, please?"
Tara thought for a moment; there was no reason why she should refuse. "Okay, for the rest of this week. Then we'll see."
Willow's smile was the brightest she had ever seen. "I'll meet you here after work then."
The street was dark, but the two figures walking side by side didn't feel the darkness at all.
"What should we talk about at a time like this?" Willow ventured.
"Well, let's see. What about movies? What kind of movies do you like?" Tara suggested.
"It's old now, but I love the Matrix," Willow said.
"Only the first one, I didn't like the other two," Tara agreed, to Willow's delight.
"The Matrix was heavily influenced by Japanese animation. There was a discussion between the Wachowski brothers and Japanese director Mamoru Oshii, where Oshii said that he would have preferred Gina Gershon over Carrie-Ann Moss as Trinity," Willow was prattling on about a subject she was clearly enamored with. Tara stopped to observe the redhead enthusiastically gushing and gesticulating; she couldn't help let out a giggle.
Willow froze in panic at Tara's giggle. She turned around to see the twinkle in Tara's eyes. "Oh my god," she blurted. "What kind of bodyguard am I, to abandon you in the middle of the street!"
Tara giggled even harder, Willow had never looked cuter and more ... kissable. She was surprised that she didn't feel put off by that thought, but she knew she had to bury it for the time being.
The walk to Tara's building was over far too quickly. Their good-byes were interspaced by pauses and words not spoken. Finally Willow gave Tara a small smile and turned around to walk back to the train station.
Willow realized that walking Tara home wasn't enough. When another batch of photos arrived at Tara's mailbox in the morning, she knew it was time to take matters into her own hand.
She studied the photos of Tara in many different poses, resisting the temptation to drool over them with the thought that she had a task, an assignment to keep Tara safe.
After saying goodnight to Tara after a walk home that had both of them inching toward each other for safety, she went home to pack her "Stalker the Stalker kit" -- binoculars, ultrasonic distance measurer, spirit level, whistle, a long piece of string, water and chocolate (the latter for energy, not for the stalker). Her primary aim was to find the spots where the photos were taken, and hence the stalker's secret hiding place. The task was made easy since the photos could be grouped by location. It was as if he (she wasn't sure if it was a he, stalkers were usually male, right?) limited his "ambush" of Tara at certain times and locations.
By the end of the night she was utterly exhausted with the running and scouting around. But she had in her notebook three possible hiding places -- underneath a large tree opposite Tara's office, behind the vending machines at the train station, and in the middle of some bushes at the side of Tara's apartment building. She set up hidden cameras to observe the hiding places, thankful that Andrew's brother worked at a gadget shop and conveniently "lost" a box of spy equipment, on condition that the items had to be miraculously "found" by the end of the week.
She watched the cameras all night, until she could no longer keep her eyes open, but there was no sign of the stalker.
In the morning she double-checked the that the recorder was on; she would have to look through eight hours of footage that night, but for Tara's safety, it was worth it.
All day she was distracted at work, itching to check the video. By a stroke of good (or bad, she no longer cared) luck, Faith was nowhere to be seen all day. She knew she should be concerned that Faith was AWOL from her duties, truth was she didn't have the energy to deal with the girl's brand of vulgarity right now.
Tara was meeting her brother for dinner, and only after she promised repeatedly that Donnie would walk her home that Willow relented and allowed him to take up the protector mantle for one night.
At first she watched the video carefully, her eyes darting between the three onscreen sections that were the respective camera positions. After an hour of nothing, she started bemoaning CSI for giving her the illusion that it was interesting. After another hour, she was fast-forwarding. Double speed became 4x, then 8x.
Soon her mind drifted and everything became a blur.
She almost missed it. She was trying to multi-task between day-dreaming, watching the video and chatting with her online friends. The talk about Chris' action figure collection and Sally's new job interspaced with descriptions of watty's travel adventures was mesmerizing in a weird way. Her eyes glazed over the seemingly neverending shots of the same empty spaces when she caught some movement at one of the corners of the screen. She quickly reversed the video and played it at normal speed, her expression rapidly changing from surprise to anger to outrage.
"I'll skin her alive!"