Continue to Lamplight Chapter Twenty-Two


Author: watson
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: BtVS characters, concepts and dialog belong to Mutant Enemy, Fox, The WB, UPN and others.

They watched wordlessly as the glass sailed through the air in slow motion, its contents tracing a wide arc like a wild stroke made by an artist through a canvas of air, droplets of water seemed to hover momentarily in the air before falling helplessly as they couldn't resist the pull of gravity. It happened so quickly, neither had time to reach out to stop the fall.

The sound of glass breaking on the tiled floor brought them back to reality.

Tara was still staring, wild-eyed. Willow had already jumped up and ran into the kitchen. Within seconds she was back and started to sweep the shards into a dustpan.

Tara reached out to take the dustpan out of Willow's hands. "Let me do it, you're not wearing shoes."

"It's okay, I'm fine." Willow showed no sign of relinquishing control over the dustpan.


"I said, I got it," Willow snapped.

Tara was taken aback at the brusqueness of Willow's reaction but it wasn't completely unexpected. They had both been edgy the last few days; Tara after the unsettling meeting with Kate Lockley and Willow ... something was bothering Willow at work but she hadn't told Tara. Every time Tara broached the subject it was either ignored or downplayed, to the point that Willow refused to talk about it.

"Fine," Tara said. If her lover wanted to be in a pissy mood, she wasn't going to add fuel to fire.

"Yeah, fine. Finey mcfine. Everything's fine," Willow muttered.

Tara retreated to the couch and picked up her laptop -- she had an assignment due next week. "Just don't get any glass fragments on your feet. Blood's impossible to clean off tiles," she snipped.

Willow looked up sharply, a brief flash of anger in her eyes. Tara regretted the sting in her words, but it was either push Willow's buttons or passively watch her lover indulge in a big dose of 'woe-is-me'. The redhead in question opened and closed her mouth several times, trying to find the right retort.

Tara sat cross-legged on the couch and settled the laptop on her lap, but her eyes never left Willow's. She wasn't challenging her lover as reminding her she wasn't oblivious to the fact that Willow was being tempestuous and nothing would be solved by bottling up troubled thoughts.

In other words, she wanted to know what was making Willow behave like a jerk.

Willow knew Tara was hurt and worried. She didn't tell her about the encounter with Wilkins because she didn't know what to make of it. Belatedly she thought back at what Detective Lockley had told Tara and came to the conclusion that she was in over her head. She sought counsel from Patrick but was told to "just do it" -- an odd expression on his face hinted that he was under immense pressure to deliver results and failure wasn't an option.

She felt like she, Patrick and perhaps even the Bank itself was under threat by powerful political forces. Powerful, dark, forces.

Some covert digging and a few well-placed phone calls later and she had a thin folder of scattered information. Pulling the tiny amount of hard facts and a bunch of half-truths together into a semblance of sense took the best part of two days. She read and re-read her findings several times, only her sense of proprietary and twisted curiosity stopping her from shredding the whole file.

By that time it was too late to tell Tara.

She finished sweeping the glass off the floor and padded back to the kitchen to deposit them in a sturdy container. It perturbed her that her mind associated the fall and breakage of a water glass with how quickly her life's focus had changed over the course of a few days. It had been a wonderful three months with Tara. Nothing stood between them, only love. She would always treat this time as the most special in her life.

She knew she deserved Tara's sarcastic jibe about the cut glass; she had been distant and impatient, not to mention downright rude lately. That Tara was confused about the cold shoulder was understandable. She couldn't put it off any longer. Time to talk.

She walked slowly to the living room. Her instinct was to join Tara on the couch but she deliberately circled around and stood next to an armchair facing the couch. "I put the bits of glass in the cereal box, it's almost finished so I just put the inner bag on the counter."

"Uh huh."

"I'll take it out to the trash later."

"Uh huh."

"Do we, er, need to dispose of it separately?"

"There's a glass recycle bin."

Tara wasn't making any of this easy. Willow sat down at the edge of the armchair, to tense to lean back.

"My feet are okay."


Tara hadn't looked up during this exchange, ostensibly clicking on her laptop. Only the slight tremor in her shoulders betraying the fact that she wasn't paying attention to what was on her screen.

Willow nervously rubbed her hands together, trying to steer the conversation in the direction she wanted, but dreaded, to go.

"I talked to Richard Wilkins last week," she tried again.

"He's your client, that's to be expected, no?"

"Where does he get all his money?"

Tara looked up and made an exasperated sound. "Will, you know as well as I that nobody knows. He doesn't tell us about it; nor is he obliged to."

Willow couldn't stay seated any longer. She jumped up and began pacing. "It's highly irregular."

Tara finally put the laptop aside and focused on Willow. "What's wrong?"

"I had some concerns about a series of transactions he wanted to put through, and we had a heated discussion that ended with him making some veiled threats. About us."

"What sort of threats? And why didn't you tell me about this?"

"That he'd expose us; he hinted at having a video."

Tara spread her hands. "Of what? More importantly, who will he show it to that can hurt us? It's not like we're celebrities."

Willow stopped pacing and shrugged. "That's kinda what I told him, but he looked damned smug! I had to do the wires, but I think I'm no longer on his Christmas list."

"Will it hurt your professional standing? If you were to lose his business?" Tara said patiently.

"I don't know. He has too many powerful friends," Willow looked away and started pacing again while Tara looked on. "There's more."

Tara looked calm as she waited for Willow to continue. Willow tried to script several sentences in her head, but it soon gave her a headache. Her back was turned against Tara at that instant. "Between this and what Kate Lockley told you about him, I did some digging into his business affairs. Why didn't you tell me you have co-signatory rights to some of his companies?"


"I traced a group of shell companies back to him that due diligence didn't get to. Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Macau -- some of them list you as a co-owner."

"I don't understand," Tara sounded puzzled, which almost made Willow hesitate before making her next revelation.

"I found transactions made through these companies on your authority. You get paid handsomely by them, very handsomely."

Willow turned back to face Tara, and found her pale and shocked. "I don't understand," Tara repeated. "I have no knowledge of these. Paid? Paid where?"

"Your signature is everywhere," Willow said flatly.

"I signed a lot of papers when I first joined. They said they're confidentiality agreements and the like," Tara frowned.

"Are you sure?"

Tara shook her head. "I don't know, I was young and clueless. God, this is unbelievable. Anything else you discovered while snooping?"

"That's all so far. Tara, believe me, I wasn't trying to implicate you." Willow sighed. "It's just, there's still so much I don't know about you or your job. You're involved in quote unquote the business side, but you're not like Lilah Morgan or Alan Finch, who have definable roles. Everyone tells me that you have special access to the boss. What was I to think?"

Tara was speechless and could do little else than sit stone still and stare at Willow with unbelieving wide eyes. Willow was leaning stiffly against the bar, her voice having gradually raised in timbre until it was almost accusatory.

The silence in the room was broken only by the sounds of their breathing.

Tara's shoulders slumped and she let out a resigned breath. "Did you hear what you're saying? After all we've been through, is there no trust between us?"

Willow looked away. "I didn't know what to think. You don't know about these shell companies?" At Tara's vehement shake of her head she continued, "And these payments into offshore accounts?"

"No! I save all my bank statements, you can look through the lot."

"Let me think." Willow turned contemplative as thoughts and scenarios whizzed through her brain. One pre-requisite of being a trader was the need to think quickly on her feet; and to come to, and have the bravery to act on, conclusions based on not knowing the full picture. Very often all she had to trust was her gut feelings. "You're being used as a front, that's best case. Worst case is you're being set up to take the rap in case something goes wrong."

Tara could only repeat "I can't believe it" several times.

Willow came to sit on the couch, but kept a chasm of two feet between them. "Tell me about the Suite."

Tara's stomach flipped. This was the one thing she had tried to avoid telling Willow. The one secret in her life. "I can't."

"Can't or won't?"

Tara's voice was small and haunted. "It doesn't matter. If you trust me, or love me the way you say you do, then it won't matter. I don't want to bring it up again."

"I -- I need to know," Willow pleaded. She wanted to reach out to Tara, but she couldn't.

Tara was shaking. "No," she choked.

"This goes all the way back to when you were in Sunnydale, doesn't it? What happened? Is there something you're hiding?" Willow knew she was pushing now.

Tara couldn't stop shaking, and all she wanted was to curl up into a small ball. Willow knew she was close to, or perhaps had treaded over a fine line that would make Tara hate her forever. But she couldn't stop. It would kill her if she didn't ask the unspoken question that had lain dormant in her mind, ever since she found Tara again. "Tara, did he ever touch you?"

Continue to Lamplight Chapter Twenty-Four

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