Tara unlocked the door to Faith's apartment and strolled inside, a tupperware filled with a home cooked meal under her arm. She looked around, but Faith was not in the living room. Buffy, Faith's mastiff, lay prone on her couch, looked up briefly at Tara and then laid back on her side and resumed lazying about as all doggies tended do religiously.
"Faith?" Tara asked while walking to the kitchen. Immediately, she heard a thump sounding from the bedroom, as if someone had fallen out of bed. A few moments later, a somewhat flushed Faith with disheveled hair and wearing a black bathrobe, ran out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her immediately.
"Hey, T," Faith smiled.
Tara greeted Faith and set Faith's meal on the counter. "Sorry I kept you waiting for your d-dinner, Faith. Willow and I had mashed potatoes and stew today, and I'd made a little extra for you. Then I was called, and now it got bit l-late."
"No biggie, T," Faith replied. "I'm just glad you take care of me, and all. Don't tell me you brought that food along while collecting?"
"Sure, I won't tell you about it," Tara winked. "I just put it somewhere while I was getting the soul. Hey, Buffy," Tara strolled over the dog and stroked her fur for a while.
Faith looked stricken for a moment. "Uh, yeah, T, she's, um, she's called Comet again, for now. But I'm thinking of calling her either Dog or Mrs. Columbo."
The honey-blonde frowned at Faith for a moment and sat down on the couch, patting the pooch-formerly-known-as-Buffy's tummy. "Faith, you'll be giving your dog a severe identity crisis if you keep this up," Tara's eyes sparkled.
Faith shrugged. "I just figured it wouldn't be nice to call my dog after your girlfriend's friend, s'all."
Tara leaned back against the couch. "That never bothered you before," Tara said, finally noticing Faith's odd behaviour. She's twitching? Looking back and forth to the bedroom door? And so obviously not wearing anything under her bathro... Oh. she finally came to right conclusion. "Company?" Tara asked.
"Uh," Faith said. "Yes."
"Oh my Goddess," Tara smirked when she saw Faith's nervousness. "You're actually... giddy," she smiled. "The only time I ever saw you giddy is when Universal announced they'd release Columbo on DVD! Could it be? Has the notorious single white female finally fallen for someone?" she teased.
"Me?" Faith retorted, but Tara couldn't help but notice that her friend had started pacing... always a sure sign of giddiness. "Hah! Lehane is a love-free zone! Nervous? Me? Never, ever! Tara, I can honestly and positively tell you that this girl has fallen for no man!"
Tara heard a cough coming from the bedroom.
"... or girl," Faith muttered under her breath.
Tara smiled. "My cue to exit," she said, patting her friend on the shoulder. "I'll be on my way and leave you to your, um, nocturnal activities. It's been getting kinda late for me anyways." Tara had known Faith for years, and she had always been a lot more active in the dating scene... well, not so much dating scene, more like the only-one-night-of-passion-but-it's-so-intense-you'll-never-want-anyone-else-ever-again scene. Tara knew the signs in Faith's mannerisms, though she was somewhat more eager this night... She remembered that Faith'd left one guy waiting in her bedroom for hours straight after Tara had come over to talk to Faith after Donny had been particularly nasty to her and she needed some comforting some years back.
This time, around, Faith seemed very eager to return to the bedroom. Very eager indeed. "Thanks, T," Faith smiled.
Before leaving the apartment, Tara turned back to say goodbye to Faith, only to just catch a glimpse of Faith already in the process of dropping her bathrobe while approaching the door to her bedroom. I... I never knew she had a tattoo there! Slightly embarrassed, she looked away quickly, and hurried out the door.
When Tara finally arrived home, it was well past midnight. Just after leaving Faith's, her pager had alerted her to another impeding death in a nearby town. After collecting the soul in question, Tara hoped she was finished for the day, and would be able to get a good night's sleep. It had been a full month since she and Willow had made love for the first time... it had been heavenly. And the two lover had had a bit more practise since then. Even though every moment with Willow was a gift, after being up making love for half the night and then a long, long day of Collecting souls, Tara was dead on her feet and just about ready to collapse on the floor and sleep for 24 hours straight.
Just after she entered her home and closed the door behind her, she was treated to one of the most adorable sights she had ever seen.
Willow was sitting on her chair at her desk, and had apparently been working on her laptop. Her lover was fast asleep, her head resting on her keyboard. Tara smiled at her for a moment, and brushed away some of the read hair that was spilling over Willow's lovely face... before realizing she was still cloaked and holding her scythe.
Silently, very silently, Tara moved the carpet and the loose floorboard to slide her scythe into its hiding place, while Willow was sleeping mere feet away. She rolled up her cloak and stuffed it at the back of her dresser. Then, she walked back to Willow. When she gets like this, not even 40 megaton nuclear blast right next to her ear could wake her.
Tara felt a pang of guilt. Obviously, Willow had dropped by and decided to wait for her to come back home, only writing a paper for class to kill time. The honey-blonde Reaper decided to do the right thing and bring Willow to bed. Noticing that Willow's head on the keyboard had made Willow's paper on screen look very interesting (something Willow would beat herself up over the next morning, no doubt), Tara gently pulled Willow from the computer by the shoulders and laid her into the seat of the chair, the imprint of the keyboard still visible on her cheek.
Since Tara owned a simple office-chair with wheels, it was easy to drive the sleeping girl into the bedroom. And, because the bed was relatively low to the ground, Tara could simply roll Willow onto the bed. The honeyblonde Reaper disrobed Willow to her underwear. Even though they had made love on numerous occasions, Tara didn't feel comfortable with completely disrobing her lover without her knowing about it. She, at least, managed to get Willow into her pajama bottoms, the loose-fitting purple one with the little whales printed on it.
Tara tucked in Willow and kissed her on the lips briefly. It took her only a few moments to change into her night attire and slip under the duvet herself. The heavenly feeling of snuggling up to Willow helped her fall into a blissful, dreamless sleep.
Somewhere in the morning, Tara vaguely heard something stirring on the nightstand next to her.
Crud, Tara thought and groggily checked the alarm clock, squinting as the morning sun assaulted her eyes. Well, at least I got nearly seven hours. Still, she was somewhat annoyed. Being called this early in the morning meant that she had to skip showering and, more annoying, skip having breakfast with Willow.
She reached over to click off her pager, allowing Willow to sleep in, at least. She quickly got dressed, but Willow stirred behind her when she was about to fetch her cloak and scythe.
"Work?" Willow asked groggily, her eyes still clenched shut.
"Yes," Tara said as she sat down next to the bed on Willow's side. "I'm sorry," she said while slowly running her fingers through Willow's silky soft hair.
"Sleepy," Willow murmured.
Tara smiled. "Sleep in a little more, sweetie. It's not time for class yet."
"Love you," Willow mumbled, her eyes still closed.
Tara kissed her lover's forehead gently. "Love you too, sweetie."
Buffy Summers arrived at Tara's apartment and knocked on the door. A few seconds later, Willow opened the door and cheerfully greeted her friend. Buffy smiled at Willow, but inwardly winced at Willow's chosen outfit for the day: she was wearing a dark pink shirt above a white light green-striped pair of pants, topping it off with dark red sneakers and a light yellow bonnet on her head.
"Hey, Will," Buffy smiled at Willow. "Ready for class?"
"Hold on, I'll just go get my bookbag," Willow replied and went off to quest for her books.
Buffy looked around and saw only one plate on Tara's desk. "Isn't Tara in?"
"No," Willow called over from the desk at the other side of the living room. "She went out early today. Work."
Buffy crossed her arms. "Okay, I know that tone of voice."
"What tone of voice?" Willow countered.
"The 'Oh, everything's fine, even though everything's wrong' tone," Buffy asked. "What's going on here? Are you and Tara okay?"
Willow plopped down on Tara's couch, pouting slightly while Buffy closed the door behind her. The blonde sat down in the chair facing Willow. "Spill," she demanded.
"Everything's great between me and Tara, Buff," Willow said. "I swear. I love her more every day, but..."
"But what, Will?"
Willow sighed heavily. "It's... little things. Whenever I ask her what line of work she's in, she quickly changes the subject. I don't know what she does for a living, but she does keep strange hours. I mean, she has this pager. It's like she's on call or something. I understand why she has to ran out, but sometimes I think she overdoes it."
"How do you mean?"
Willow sighed. "Well, she ran out when we were having dinner last tuesday. And during a date. And once, um, just before, um..." Willow blushed deeply. "Just before... smootchies. She came back later though and, um, more than made up for lost time, but still... I felt kinda hurt by it."
"Okay," Buffy raised her hands. "That one definitely belongs to the Too Much Information category, Wills. And, god, what the hell is that?!" Buffy said, pointing to a painting that was hanging above Tara's couch. It was the painting of a thin, scary figure standing on top of a rock with a dark, stormy background. The figure was clad in a long black cloak with dark yellow runes stitched onto it. He was hooded and wore spiked shoulderpads. His eyes shone bright red, the only things that could be seen beyond the darkness of the hood. In his hands, he clutched a nasty looking scythe with a serrated blade, poised in a striking position.
"I know, doesn't it give you the jeepers creepers?" Willow said, glancing over her shoulder at the painting "I always get the feeling his eyes follow me around the room."
"Major wiggins," Buffy shuddered. "Why is that thing even hanging here? Tara isn't a goth. Is she? Wills, are you dating a closet goth?"
"No, no," Willow replied. "Tara says it's her grandfather."
Buffy nodded. "Ah, so her grandfather painted it."
"No," Willow raised her eyebrows. "The man in the painting is Tara's grandfather. Tara said his work gave it to him after fifty years of loyal service."
"Huh," Buffy blinked. "I'd rather get a gold watch. Oh, did Tara say she'd be in LA yesterday evening?"
"No," Willow replied. "Why?"
Buffy flushed slightly. "Oh, um, well, uh, I was in LA yesterday and I saw her with Faith. Uh, they were hanging out and stuff."
Willow frowned and rubbed her chin. "That's ooky too. I mean, she doesn't own a car, and there's no busses from Sunnydale to LA late at night. And she didn't say anything about it... Uh, not that she has to report her whereabouts to me all the time, of course, cause that'd be obsessively insane. Wait... why were you in LA, Buff?"
Buffy froze, flushed even brighter. "Uhm, oh, um, I was just visiting a friend. Yeah, a friend. Visiting. Friend stuff. Visit. Friend."
Willow chuckled briefly. "This friend wouldn't be a certain hotel owner, would he?"
"No! No!" Buffy replied quickly. "God, I'm so over him already! This was just... a friend. A new friend... Just a friendly friend."
"Buff," Willow grinned. "There's a best friend clause at work here. If there's a new love in your life, you gotta spill. It's a rule," Willow said, putting on her 'resolve'-face. "I told you about Tara when we started dating. It's only fair you tell too," Willow pouted.
"You're faking that pout," Buffy looked away. "It's, um, tentative. Besides, we were talking about you here, don't change the subject, missy."
The redhead's smile slowly faded. "I trust Tara. I really do. But, there's only one thing that really bothers me," Willow said, looking at Tara's desk. "Yesterday, I was working at Tara's desk and I was looking for a pen. Her desk was locked."
"Well, Tara's the only person who lives here, and I'm the only one who comes by regularly," Willow folded her arms together. "So, the only reason I can think of why she would lock her desk, is that there's something in there she doesn't want me to see."
Buffy looked at the desk, at Willow, then at the desk again. "Let's find out," she said, while fishing a hairpin from her blonde mane.
"Buffy, no!" Willow looked horrified and moved in front of the desk. "You can't do that! That's Tara's private things!"
"Oh, come on," Buffy countered. "It's not as if you're not curious. Come on, you'll feel better afterwards. Will, you always wanna know things that can be known, and if you don't know, you'll agonize over it until you do know, you know?"
Looking at Willow, Buffy could obviously tell that she was in turmoil from the way she was looking at the floor and biting her lower lip softly. Curiosity was fighting a war with her sense of honesty and, eventually, just barely, curiosity won out. Willow gave Buffy the briefest of nods.
Immediately, Buffy started to get to work. The perky blonde had often used a hairpin to sneak in and out of the house when she was still living in LA and had gotten quite a proficiency at picking locks. After some tries, Buffy held the satisfying 'snick' of a lock opening. "And," Buffy started, "she opens to reveal... a stack of forms," Buffy spoke with disappointment when she saw a stack of papers lying in the desk.
"Well, what were you expecting?" Willow huffed. "Drug money? A human head?"
"Sex toys," Buffy smirked.
Willow clenched her jaw and blushed wildly. "Buffy!"
"Hey, it's always the quiet ones," Buffy shrugged and took one of the forms. "Looks officious. Hey, what's that?" she said and saw a filefolder labeled 'Eyes Only'. She quickly took it and handed it to Willow.
Willow flipped it open and saw it was a file on a person with some details printed on it. "Hey," she said while handing Buffy the picture that came with the file. "It's Andrew. You know, 'Jedi Andy-wan' from high school? Obsessed Star Wars fan?"
"Mister 'Han fired first, and I don't care what you say, I'm still not a total dork'?" Buffy rolled her eyes. "I mean who gives a crap who fired first? Greedo's still dead. Now if Han had gotten killed in the new editions, that'd be a major plothole and... God, the dorkiness vibes have been rubbing off on me. I've been hanging around Xander too long."
"Tara wrote something in this file," Willow said. "It says 'Harvester assigned to case is Faith Michaela Lehane, Harvester First Class, serial number 567-83ED, acknowledged and approved by Tamara Elizabeth Maclay, Collector Senior, serial number 379-24AB'. Look, there's a stamp and everything."
"Weird," Buffy frowned. "Faith mentioned she and Tara were in the same line of work, but she was pretty secretive about it too. What the hell is it that they do?"
Willow brushed past Buffy and took two small wooden boxes from the drawer. She carefully opened it up and found a number of small fist-sized orbs in them. She took one from the box and examined it carefully. It was transparent, but had a black, metal ring around the diameter. There were yellow runes etched into the metal and, upon further examination, they looked a lot like the runes on Tara's grandfather's cloak in the painting.
"What are these?" Buffy said, groaning as she tried to open one of the orbs, but not managing. Oddly enough, the orb she got from the other box opened easily.
"I've never seen anything like it," Willow shook her head.
"Hey," Buffy said as she weighed the orb she couldn't open in her head. "This one feels heavier. I wonder what's in it?"
Willow closed her eyes. "No, Buffy, put everything back where you found it, I don't feel right about this. This is Tara's, it's private."
"Everything that is your honey's belongs to you," Buffy replied resolutely. "Except when you trash his car in violently horrendous and successful traffic accident. Then it's all his."
Willow asked Buffy to replace everything and relock the drawer. Buffy could see that Willow was feeling really bad about giving in to her curiosity. Together, they silently wanted to class.
"Xander?" Buffy spoke into her cellphone as she was walking towards class after having dropped off Willow at the computer-lab. "I kinda need your help."
"Sure, Buff," Xander said. "Shoot, what do you want me to do? Do you want something built, or do you want something beat up? Or maybe you'd like strong, healthy offspring?"
"I just need you to keep Willow busy for a while," Buffy said. "Keep her from making her lunchdate with Tara."
"Okay... Why?" Xander asked.
"Just making sure Tara isn't another Amy," Buffy replied. "I don't think Willow could handle that. You know how deeply Willow loves... if Tara turns out to be another Amy, it's going to destroy her."
"Gotta tell you, Buff," Xander said. "I don't get Amy-vibes from Tara. She's nice, she's genuine and I truly believe she's deeply in love with our Wills."
"So do I," Buffy sighed. "But we have to make sure, for Willow's sake. So, here's what we'll do..."
One of the problems in keeping her life as a Reaper a secret from Willow and her friends, was her irregular schedule. On some days, she was swamped with work. On others, she had nothing to do at all. Today was such a day.
The case she'd been paged on had only taken her five minutes to complete. There was nothing more she wanted then to simply go home and crawl back into bed with Willow, but Willow had seen her leave, and it wouldn't be logical to leave for work, any work, and return home five minutes later.
So, on occassions like these, she had a lot of time to kill. Usually, she'd go over to Faith's place to hang out with her friend. Faith allowed her to make use of her apartment whenever she was out herself and had given her the key to those ends, but seeing Tara had missed breakfast today, she had decided to have something to eat in the Head Office cafeteria first.
While having her coffee and warmed buns, she read Dawn's latest story. About a month ago, Dawn had a rather nasty experience when she had posted one of her stories on the Internet. Someone with less character would have thrown in the towel and ended her writing career prematurely. But not Dawn. On a quest for self-improvement, Dawn had joined a creative writing class at school as an extra-curricular activity. She'd already learned more about writing: planning ahead, making character sketches and not being afraid to cut plotlines when necessary. Dawn was in the process of stopping to work with inane crossovers and focus on more character driven stories, occassionally with original characters. The character of Sunset Winters had, fortunately, been retired... though Dawn insisted Sunset was somewhere on a sunny beach with Harry and Draco.
Tara finished the first draft of Dawn's new story, which Dawn had given her to read. Though it was a diamond in the rough, Tara found that she liked it. It was a story about a girl being ignored in school. In fact, she was ignored so much that she turned invisible, and started to use those newfound powers to her advantage. It was a tragic, sad story with a humorous and unexpected happy ending.
Dawn was getting better... and it was an intense relief to Tara that she could now tell Dawn she liked her stories without having to lie about it.
After finishing her breakfast and Dawn's story, Tara decided it she'd have to take care of something. She was in need of more forms, but was reluctant to have them delivered at her home, seeing that Willow came there quite often and the redheaded girl almost accidentally intercepted her mail on more than one occasion. She'd hired a mailbox at the local post office and wanted the Head Office to send her Reaper-related mail to that mailbox. Now she only needed to convince them of that.
According to the Reaper handbook, all she had to do was to call administrations and tell them the new address. She walked to the pay phone in the middle of the large lobby near the front office and called them.
"Administrations. Darvisher speaking."
"Hi, this is Tara Maclay, Collector Senior, serial number 379-24AB. I'd like to request a different mailing address."
"Hold on, I'll connect you to miss Lillith."
Immediately, the waiting song started playing. All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey. I've been for a walk on a winter's day. I'd be safe and warm, if I was in L.A. California Dreamin', on such a winter's day. It wasn't a bad song. It wasn't a song that Tara would feel embarrassed about if caught listening to it.
"Administrations. Lillith speaking."
"Hello, I'm Tara Maclay, Collector Senior, serial number 379-24AB. I'd like to request a different mailing address," Tara tried again.
"Sorry, not my department. I'll connect you to mister Jones."
All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey. I've been for a walk on a winter's day...
"Mister Jones. Administration."
"Tara Maclay, Collector Senior, serial number 379-24AB. I still like to request a different mailing address."
"Ah, sorry, can't help you there. Connecting to miss Scarlet."
"No, wait, I.."
All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey...
Tara sighed. This was getting tiresome.
"Miss Scarlet, administration. Can I help you?"
"Tara Maclay, Collector Senior, serial number 379-24AB. Just give me a different mailing address already."
"Not my department, I'm afraid. Patching you through to mister Darvisher."
"No, wait, please!" Tara pleaded, but to no avail : All the leaves are brown...
Tara put yet another quarter in the phone. "Administrations. Darvisher speaking."
Tara sighed. "Hi, I..."
"Didn't I talk to you earlier? Miss Lillith will take your request. Patching you through..."
"No!" Tara begged. "Please!"
All the leaves...
It was at this point that, even though it was eight o'clock, Tara started doubt she'd even make her lunchdate with Willow today.
Tara strolled onto campus and headed towards one of the benches located near the baseball court. Sunnydale U had a plenthora of facilities and halls, from science, to social, to sports. Behind the bench was a small duckpond protected from the sun by a couple of large trees. It was a quiet spot where Willow and Tara often met before their daily lunchdate.
She leaned back on the bench and watched the ducks swim around peacefully. This morning, she'd finally gotten through to the Head Office clerk responsible for address changes, and she still had two hours to spend with Faith afterwards. Tara had asked how her date with that mysterious person had ended, but Faith had been remarkably secretive about it. Tara considered it fair enough, though: Faith had often asked her for details on Willow prowess in the bedroom, and Tara never told her anything about that either.
Hm, Willow's late, Tara thought after checking her watch. That's not like her at all.
"Hey, Tara," Tara turned around to see Buffy standing next to the bench.
"Hi, Buffy," Tara greeted. "Have you seen Willow?"
"Yeah, just a moment ago," Buffy replied. "She wanted me to tell you she's very sorry, but she won't be able to make her lunch date today. There was some kind of accident at the computer lab and..."
"Oh Goddess," Tara rose from the bench. "I-is she o-okay? I have to s-see h-her!"
Buffy looked surprised for a moment, but then realized the implications of what she'd just told Tara. "Oh, no," she said quickly, briefly touching Tara's shoulders. "It's not a 'bodily harm'-accident, more like an 'oh crap'-accident. The network crashed and the professors asked her to help getting things back together.
Oh, that's a relief, Tara thought. For a moment there, I thought she was going to say...
"Actually," Buffy bit her lip. "Xander can't make his appointment either. If you could help me out, Tara, it'd be a great help."
"S-sure, if I can help," Tara offered.
Buffy practically pulled the honey-blonde into the well-lit gym that was nearby the duckpond. Tara knew that Buffy made a living teaching self-defense classes to girls of all ages, and found herself standing in front of a group of girls of all ages below sixteen, all holding what looked like a wooden fighting staff.
"Good news girls!" Buffy raved. "Tara's agreed to help us out."
Tara felt very nervous to be the center of attention, especially when all these girls where whooping and cheering her.
"Come on, Tara," Buffy smiled. "Let's go get you into the suit."
When Tara was sixteen, she had some very vivid dreams about being assaulted by an army of girls. Of course, the girls in those dreams were all of the age of consent, were wearing she-thru dresses and nothing else, and... weren't brandishing fighting staves.
Tara stood in the middle of a room, hardly able to move in the puffy suit that she'd been dressed in, while the girls whooped around her, hitting her with their staves as often, as hard and as viciously as possible. Though she was well-protected by the suit, Puffy Tara felt somewhat uncomfortable around the stick-wielding girls. Pat... pat... pat... pat... pat... pat... sounded the wood on the puffy suit, with the occasional 'twock' on her helmet.
Tara looked down to find a six year old girl smiling at her. Tara smiled back, as if to say 'you won't try to hurt me, will you? You're so cute'. The six year old girl's smiled broadened... just before jabbing her stick against Tara's knee.
The girls continued dancing around their target, until a collective 'awww' went through the group when Buffy announced that class was over. Most of the girls thanked Tara, which she considered rather heartwarming, seeing that they were actively trying to kill her just a few moments ago.
"You're a life-saver, Puffy Tara," grinned Buffy as she started to unzip the puffy suit. "Let me repay you by buying you lunch."
And so, Tara and Buffy ended up sitting in the student cafeteria in silence. Tara immediately knew that something was up. What's going here? Buffy, usually up for some bubbly small-talk, was avoiding Tara's eyes and picked at her food.
"So, what line of work are you in?" Buffy asked, out of the blue. "And Faith too?"
Ah, so this is what it's about, Tara half-smiled. She knew this had been coming, though she would have expected Willow to ask her about it. In her mind, she had rehearsed this speech a hundred times already. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves and bring up the scenario she and Faith had decided on. This would be critical.
"I-insurance," Tara sighed briefly. There, it was out. Not turning back now.
Buffy frowned. "Insurance?"
"Y-yes," Tara said. Well, at least it's more plausible than Faith's first suggestion: Zombie-hunters and Vampire-killers. "You see, when s-someone dies, people like me are called into make s-sure that... no bad c-claims are made. That there's no f-fraud," Tara winced. She hated this... she hated lying to Buffy. "You'd be s-surprised how many people try to c-commit insurance fraud."
Buffy blinked. "Wow, I get it. So, you have to make sure someone is really dead? So that no big bad can strike up money while he's still alive. You're sort of a private investigator."
"Big i-insurance companies have whole b-battalions of people l-like us," Tara said nervously. "It, um, saves more money b-because it p-prevents fraud." You're the fraud, Tara. You're the fraud, Tara thought sadly. "It's s-something the companies aren't v-very open about. You c-can only g-get this job if someone working it introduces y-you to the c-company. Faith and I b-both have family w-working... And I can't tell you m-much more, because of c-confidentiality. I might l-lose my job if I d-do."
Buffy and Tara sat in silence again. Goddess, does she believe me? I'm not ever sure I believe me.
"That so totally makes sense!" Buffy smiled broadly.
It does?! Tara blinked.
"Yes, um, I've been w-working extra hard lately to, um, make more m-money," Tara said. "Willow and I have been t-talking about p-putting down a deposit for a place of our own." Well, that wasn't a lie. At least, not completely. Willow and Tara had been talking about moving in together. Tara hoped that Buffy's innate sense of romanticism would win her.
"Aw, that's so sweet," Buffy beamed. Bingo. Next topic, please?
The rest of the meal, Buffy bubbled on making relentless small talk.
"I can't believe you did that!" Willow pouted when Buffy had come to her home and told her everything that happened. "Xander took me to the comedy club matinee for lunch and told me Tara would be there, but she wasn't and we waiting and the jokes were funny, but I couldn't laugh because I was worried about Tara and thinking 'where's Tara? I hope nothing's happened to her!' all the time. I was worried sick, Buffy, I was so worried something had happened to Tara and she'd be all alone and..."
The torrent of speech coming from the redhead almost shorted out Buffy's brain. She waited for an appropriate opening before jumping in.
"But insurance!" Buffy smiled. "That does make sense, doesn't it?"
"I s'ppose," Willow shrugged, but not looking very convinced. "She could have just told me. Oh, and I did a websearch on those runes and orb thingies, but I couldn't find it. Did she happen to tell you what they are?"
"'Oh, by the way, Tara, we broke into your desk and found some odd orb thingies. Could you tell us what they are?'"
"I see you point," Willow sighed. "I... this is stupid, I should just trust her. There's not a bad bone in Tara's body. She's no Amy, Buff."
"Yeah," Buffy sighed. "But I had to know for sure. Video night later, Wills?"
Willow nodded while the two girls shared their goodbyes. They'd all hook up after dinner to watch movies together, but now, Willow was feeling hungry and Tara would be home soon. The redhead had decided that Tara didn't have to cook for her today, so she ordered a pizza for them both.
While waiting for the pizza to arrive, Willow found herself drawn to her dresser.
Willow, don't... she told herself, while moving to the dresser.
This is a mistake, Willow, she thought again while rummaging through it and pulling out an old shoebox.
Don't open it, Willow, but it was too late. The lid was off, revealed stacks of pictures of her and Amy, which she'd kept all these years. Happy smiles on sunny pictures of times past. She picked up one taken of her and Amy at the Bronze... and noticed the paper was warped slightly from the tear-stains.
Tara arrived at Willow house just in time to intercept the pizzaboy. She paid for the pizza, unlocked the door and went inside, where she could see Willow sitting on her bed from the living room.
"Willow?" she called out. Willow looked up, panicked, and started putting pictures back in a shoebox. "What's going on?"
Willow took a deep breath. "Tara, I... I got something to tell you. Buffy sorta... tricked you into telling her about your job."
Tara sat on the bed next to Willow and put down the pizza. "I knew already," Tara chuckled. "Buffy is about as subtle as a sledgehammer in the face."
"I should just trust you," Willow sighed and lay a hand on Tara's knee. "I mean... You're not Amy. I know it. You're different."
Tara took one of the pictures. On it was a younger version of Willow, being pulled in an embrace by a pretty brown-haired girl with dark eyes. "Is this Amy?"
"Amy," Willow sighed. Tara didn't know much details, but from what she had gathered from Willow and her friends, Amy had hurt her deeply.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, sweetie," Tara said, running a hand through Willow's soft hair. "If it hurts you too much..."
"I want to, baby. I need to get this off my chest... I... I first met Amy when she walked into my tutoring group," Willow said.. "At that time, I was running a small group at school for others having trouble with math. God, she was... amazing. The way she walked, the way she smiled, the way she looked at me when I talked to her."
"I didn't understand what was happening to me at first," Willow added. "It was like... all the pieces of the puzzle just fell in place, you know? I mean, boys never exactly chased me around and, well, I never really interested in boys to begin with. Not that I had any inkling that I was gay, but... it just... you know."
"I know," Tara replied, still caressing her hair. "Believe me, I know."
Willow nodded. "I was head over heels. Amy didn't make any secrets of it that she was pursuing me. It felt... nice. Whenever I was with her, I felt complete. Whenever we kissed... Well, let's just say I was living on a pink, fluffy cloud the entire time. It was a teenager being in love for the first time thingy... We were in love, and it would our secret... just between the two of us. I had never felt like that in my entire life, it was so wonderful."
Tara smiled. "The first time you fall in love always is."
"Amy was doing better at math and made the cheerleading team," Willow said, but didn't smile. "I thought it was so exciting and I was so... proud to have my girlfriend on the cheerleading team, even if it was in secret. But... then things changed. I had no idea where things went wrong, not at the time, but... she suddenly turned cold and told me she wanted nothing more to do with me," Willow sighed, and Tara could see the emotions taking hold of her. Tears were brimming in her eyes.
"Sshh," Tara whispered, holding her Willow closer to her. "It's okay to cry."
"I'm not crying... over Amy," Willow said quickly. "I've... wasted enough tears on her already."
"What happened?" Tara asked gently while Willow lay her head on Tara's lap while she continued to stroke her hair.
"Amy dropped me like a stone," Willow sniffed. "I was so heart-broken, I felt split in half. I had no idea what had gone wrong, but... I thought that it couldn't have been Amy. I thought, that I must have done something... That there something I'd done to make her stop loving me... Or that it was just me being me that made her fall out of love with me."
"Oh, Willow," Tara closed her eyes to mask her own pain.
"I was devastated," Willow said, and Tara felt her lover clutching her tighter. "I went to my parents, when they finally noticed their daughter was in pain, but only when her grades were dipping. They didn't understand... They thought it was 'some boy' that I was lovesick over, but when I told them what had happened... Let's just say they were too busy convincing me I couldn't be a lesbian to actually help me," Willow sighed. "Thank god for Buffy and Xander. And Dawn too. They helped me get through it."
Tara felt Willow stiffen for a moment and noticed her voice took on a harder edge.
"You see, Amy needed to pass math with at least a B to able to try out for the cheerleading squad," Willow continued, softly rubbing along Tara's leg when she did. "Amy wasn't exactly a model student. So, she used me... You see, when you love someone, you want to do everything to help the person you love. It was obvious that tutoring Amy wasn't going to cut it, so... I ended up doing all her math homework. But even that wasn't enough, so lovesick little Willow did what she did best: she hacked," Willow sighed. "I hacked into the school's computer system to change Amy's grade totals, just enough to earn her a B."
"I didn't see it at the time, but Amy was trying to drive a wedge between me and my friends," Willow sniffed. "Amy said they'd never understand that I was suddenly gay, that they'd reject me and hate me. And, fool that I was, I believed her." Willow snorted. "Amy said that they'd tell me that she was a bad influence. And, well, when Xander and Buffy diplomatically started to bring it to me that they thought Amy was playing me for a fool, I thought what Amy'd told me was true. God, I was so cranky and nasty to them, and they only wanted to help me," Willow started crying again. "I'm so very lucky that they didn't give up on me, and kept trying to help me even though I was so mean to them. They all accepted me for the way I am. Did you... when you told your friends and family that you are..."
"Dad's fine with it," Tara nodded. "As long as it doesn't damage my career. I think my mom always knew. And Faith, well, when I told her, she just said 'Kay' and that was that. My brother Donny was the only one who was being nasty about it, but that's just Donny's way."
"I'm glad. But that wasn't everything, you know," Willow sighed. "When we were going out, she always told me how she and her mother had such little money and barely get by. So, what do you do when you love someone? You try to help them out," Willow kept her eyes downcast. "I'd been saving money since I was four, got myself quite a little hoard when I was fifteen. Oh, Amy said she didn't want to take my money, but I insisted. I gave her little bits of money, and Amy promised me she'd find a way to pay me back. Later, I found out Xander did his sleuthing thing and found out Amy took the money I gave her straight to Rack," Willow sighed. "He's a dealer... Amy spent my life-savings on pot."
"Don't get me wrong," Willow sniffed. "Amy helped me figure out who I am, and I'll always love her for that. But, in the end, she passed her class, made the cheerleading team and got so high she flew off into the stratosphere, while I was left without a tutor group, angry parent, an empty bankaccount and a broken heart. Thinking nobody could ever love me."
"Oh, Willow," Tara could no longer hold her tears back. She just couldn't believe how someone could bring herself to hurt such a kind and gentle person like Willow in such a way. She just wanted to hold her love and do whatever she could do to banish her pain away. She gently lifted Willow's chin and cupped her cheek with her palm. "Only a fool wouldn't be able to love someone as wonderful as you are."
Willow smiled gently, her eyes sparkling while she looked up to her lover. "It took me months to realize that Amy had never loved me and that she'd just been using me all along," Willow dried her tears. "When I first found out I was gay, I was so scared, Tara. I was so scared my friends would hate me, that my parents would throw me out of the house and that everybody as school would spit on me. I was afraid that I'd end up all alone. And Amy knew that and... used that to control me. I was scared, I was in love and she played me like a puppet, even after she broke up with me."
"Buffy and Xander helped me get through it. The first few weeks I was afraid to go to school... I might have run into Amy there... But a few months after Amy had left me, I wasn't afraid anymore. Larry, a sweet guy from school, helped me set up a tasteful coming out article in the school paper. Everybody was so supportive... I wasn't afraid of Amy anymore. I strolled up to her in the middle of the hallway and demanded her to give back Bobby to me."
"Bobby?" Tara asked.
"Bobby's a teddybear. I loved Amy so much I wanted to give her something that was truly special to me," Willow said. "When I was born, my grandmother gave me Bobby. She died shortly after that, so Bobby was the only thing I had of my grandmother. It was a ratty old bear, but he was so special to me. When I realized Amy never loved me, I wanted it back. I didn't care about the money she swindled from me, I just wanted Bobby. So, I wanted Amy to give him back... I told her that if she had any shred of decency, she'd give him back to me. I begged her to give him back to me. But Amy just laughed and... walked away. She said I was pathetic..."
"I'm so sorry, Willow," Tara said, realizing that Amy's betrayal had left a deep mark on Willow's soul.
"I don't know why I kept the pictures all this time," Willow said, sifting through the shoebox with all the pictures, her younger self and Amy smiling back at her... a false smile, she knew that now. Tara looked at Willow and saw her wearing her 'resolve'-face. "I'm going to throw them away."
"You don't have to," Tara said. "Not because of me."
"Yes, I do," Willow said. "I think I kept these so I could hang on to the memories of the feeling of being loved. But I am loved now, every day," Willow smiled so warmly at Tara it made her heart melt into a puddle and drip down her ribcage... And that's a very unhealthy mental image.
"Time to make new memories," Willow smiled. She replaced the pictures and closed the box before laying her head in Tara's lap again. "I trust you completely, Tara. I know there aren't any secrets between us."
Just then, Tara wanted to cry. Yes... no secrets between us, just a double-life, Tara felt her the feelings constrict around her heart. Part of her wanted to tell Willow everything right then and there, and the only thing stopping her was fear. Fear of losing Willow. First of all, she'd never believe her if she told her, she'd have to show her... and that meant that Willow had to look Death in the eye. And Death was Tara.
People feared Death, and the last thing she wanted was for Willow to fear her. She'd also have tell Willow just how she got to be part of her life. How she had stalked her, looking to end her life. What would she think of her?
You're a coward, Maclay, Tara thought as she continued stroking Willow's hair. How long can I keep this up? How different am I from Amy? How deeply will I end up hurting Willow?
Willow rolled on her back, looking Tara in the eye, scrutinizing her. It wasn't a rethorical question? Willow expects an answer, Tara realized.
"Do you have something to tell me, Tara?" Willow smiled sardonically, but Tara couldn't help but catch the glimmer of doubt in Willow's deep green pools.
Tara crossed her arms and tried to look serious. "Yes, I have. But you have to promise never to tell anyone, because it'll put both of us in grave danger."
"Oh?" Willow sat up. "What is it."
Willow would never know how close Tara had come to telling her everything: about Reapers, about Death, about Willow having been Tara's target. But fear was a powerful emotion...
"I..." Tara started to say, and finished her sentence in an absolutely serious tone. "I'm Batman."
Both girls tried to keep straight faces, which was blown right out of the water when Willow yelled out: "Holy logjams, Batman" and both girls ended up rolling over the bed laughing uncontrollably. When the waves of giggles finally subsided, Willow moved next to Tara and cuddled her.
"Can I be catwoman?" Willow asked, trying to look sweet and innocent but only ending up looking extra naughty. "Rrrroowwwllllll..."
"Vixen!" Tara smirked. "Our pizza's getting cold."
Willow shrugged and held on to Tara. "Let's just lie here a little longer, baby."