My rescuers have taken me straight to Old Town. Old Town, the prostitute's quarter where the ladies are the only law. I should have known that's where they gonna run to, where else could you go with an escaped prisoner with more than enough enemies wanting her dead? As we drive through the streets of Old Town I look at the two women sitting up front with a deep feeling of unease. Cops never go into Old Town unless they have the cash to spend and are looking for the kind of 'favours' the ladies bestow. I don't see the point of paying for sex when there are enough women out there willing to give it away. I look at my rescuers in a new light. However benevolent they have been towards me, they are ruthless women solely concerned about protecting their own people and interests. The Oldsmobile grinds to a halt outside the foulest looking joint I have ever seen and Buffy exits the car without so much as a word. Doesn't say much that one. Faith asks if I'm coming and I nod. I look at the name above the bar...Kitty's, an innocent sounding name for a place that looks far from it.
"Here, you might wanna chunk this on," once out of the car, Faith tossed Tara a long leather jacket, "Cover up those prison digs."
Tara glanced down, she had been so busy savouring her newfound freedom that she forgot she still wore her dirty prison-issue coveralls. Her appearance screamed 'escaped prisoner.' She accepted the coat with a nod and tugged it on, drawing it tightly around her. Tara then glanced up at the flashing neon sign that spelt out 'Kitty's' over and over again. It was obviously not designed to flash but was flickering due to some fault. It made Tara's eyes hurt and she quickly looked away. The doorway was little more than a hole in a brick wall. It was watched over by a muscle bound bouncer who's every visible body part was covered in tattoos, including his shaven head and face. Tara reached out and grabbed Faith's elbow before they entered the joint.
"You got somethin' to say blondie?" Faith asked over her shoulder, looking as though she were impatient to be getting inside.
Tara held back from entering Kitty's, her hands firmly on her hips, "Don't get me wrong, I'm really grateful to you both for risking your necks for me, but how on earth does Willow know people like you? I mean, she's a good kid and would never be mixed up in...your sort of game."
"Our sort of game?" Faith asked in a low voice.
The brunette stopped in her tracks and stepped out of the entranceway. She stared long and hard at Tara, a stare Tara met and returned in kind. Both knew they were of a similar disposition, tough women used to being in situations that called for them to be blunt, abrasive and uncompromising. Although where Tara had chosen to uphold the law, Faith had proudly flaunted, broke and ignored it.
Faith eventually spoke, keeping her tone low and threatening, "You've been away eight years, that's an awful long time in a little girls life and an awful lot you've missed out on. Me, Buffy and the other ladies, we were here for her...so don't you go judging us when you've got no clue!"
To emphasise her last point, Faith jabbed Tara hard in the chest with the tip of her index finger. Tara wasn't about to take any of that shit, even from Faith. With both hands she grabbed her by the collar of the guard uniform she still wore and with a violent heave, threw her up against a wall outside Kitty's. She met Faith's outraged glare with an intense one of her own and kept a firm grip.
Tara had a comeback of her own, "Don't you dare underestimate how much I care about this kid, if I find any of you have harmed her in any way over the past eight years I am gonna personally..."
"You're gonna what, blondie?" Faith interrupted with a menacing scowl, "You're alone on my turf and I personally could make you wish you were back in prison with my bare hands."
"I'd beg to differ," Tara hissed in reply, knowing full well as she sized Faith up that her threat was overly ambitious, "Nothing you could ever do to me would mean anything compared to that place. You think you scare me? The most powerful woman in this town wants me dead so I really couldn't care less about you or your gang of whores!"
Tara watched the play of emotions across Faith's face. The brunette's eyes narrowed with outrage, her lip stiffened and if Tara looked down she knew she would see her fists clenched. Slowly however, her facial muscles relaxed.
"Tara, you should really shut up while there's still time for us to be friends," Faith's teeth were slightly gritted as though she were still holding back the urge to lash out with her fists.
Tara's eyebrows raised, she had expected a fist rather than an offer of friendship, "Why the fuck would I want to be your friend?"
Faith sighed as though Tara were profoundly stupid, "Because we both have the same interest at heart in protecting Willow...and unless I'm very much mistaken this 'gang of whores', as you so charmingly called us, are the only friends you have at the moment."
Tara instantly knew that Faith was completely right but she waited a few moments before releasing her hold on her. She couldn't bring herself to appear weak in the slightest.
"I lost all my good manners in prison," was all Tara said by way of apology.
Faith didn't seem to mind, she merely shrugged, "You need a drink, come on, it'll be on the house."
Faith ushered Tara inside beneath the baleful glare of the bouncer. Once inside, Tara ran her eyes over the joint. Its interior matched it exterior. It was a dirty, low ceiled room where the only real source of light hovered about the stripper dancing on a stage in the centre of the place. However, Tara could also now see the type of patrons who frequented this establishment...and they weren't a pretty bunch. Tara entered cautiously, although it was clear that no one was in there for the purpose of drawing attention to himself. Most gave her a quick glance and returned to downing their beers and watching the stripper longingly. She half wondered if she'd run into any of them before in her previous incarnation, however long ago that seemed. Tara ran her eyes back over the crowd, there were a lot of leather jackets and tattoos, back over the stage with its lone stripper and finally back to Faith who was nodding her head appreciatively. Whether at the music or the stripper, Tara couldn't say.
"What are we even doing here?" Tara asked her, almost shouting in order to be heard over the music that filled the room.
Faith looked over her shoulder and smirked, evidently Tara's manners were not about to be restored instantly. She clapped Tara heartily on the back, almost forcing her to stumble forward.
"Tara, I'd stop talking and sample the entertainment if I were you," Faith nodded towards the stage.
"The stripper? But I'm not interested..." Tara began in an indignant manner.
Her eyes drifted towards the stage with the intention of confirming that she was not the sort of drooling drunkard who would sit and leer at some half-dressed woman when she saw a flash of vibrant red hair.
Tara whispered just one word, "Willow."
I had expected to find redheaded little Willow Rosenberg exactly the same as I had left her, a skinny, bookish twelve-year-old kid. Instead I see in front of me, up on that stage, a woman.
Tara watched transfixed as Willow's body gyrated around the pole in front of her. When she noticed what Willow was wearing, or rather the lack of it, she was torn between her desire to watch and the guilty feeling that she ought to turn away. Willow's lithe legs were clad in a pair of black leather chaps so tight they seemed to be a part of her. Beneath them she wore black underwear. When she spun around, Tara saw it was a g-string, revealing Willow's creamy white, perfectly formed arse. Tara felt a hot wave pass through her body, culminating in a hot pink flush at her cheeks. From there, her eyes moved up over Willow's taut stomach and to her chest. A thin black leather bra barely covered her breasts, as she danced she trailed a finger along her small, but perfect cleavage. Tara had to reach out and grab the back of a chair to keep from falling to the ground. Tara then stared intently at the face she had last seen eight years ago to find that although it had changed considerably, it was still familiar. Her pixie-like face had lost its puppy fat to reveal lines which were both strong and soft. Her small red lips were opened in a tantalising pout, breaking into a small grin every now and then as she drew appreciative comments from the crowd. Her eyes were closed as though she were imaging herself somewhere else for a moment, however, when she opened them, the green eyes sparkled amidst the light spray of freckles over her pale skin. Then there was her hair, its deep red hue was both luxuriant and brazen. Although it was now swaying with the movement of Willow's head, Tara could see it fell straight down to the small of her back. She could almost imagine running her fingers through its mass.
Everything about her is perfect, from the way her hair falls about her body as she works that pole to the curves of her perfect little breasts. I realise that I don't know this young woman and I have no clue why after all this time she would want to remember me. Of course, she wants to repay me for saving her life. That's all Tara, she's grateful, she's helped get you out of that place, helped get your life back...and now you need to get on with living it. It will be awkward seeing her, thanking her, she won't know what you expect. And the way you're looking at her...it's trouble. Just get out of here Tara, write her a thank you note later.
Tara took one last look at Willow up on that stage before turning and making a beeline straight for the door. As soon as she took her eyes off the beautiful young woman she needed to see her again, it was a burning desire within her to look at Willow. Tara turned and looked over her shoulder as she made her way out. As she did she saw Willow look her way, their eyes met and Willow's widened with instant recognition. The girl smiled, white teeth flashing in a huge grin. Before Tara could take another step Willow leapt off the stage and down amongst the crowd. She took a few more steps and then threw herself into Tara's arms.
So many things assaulted Tara at that point. It was not just Willow's physical body, but also the way she smelt and that warmth that radiated from her. Small arms were flung around her neck, holding her tightly. Willow's face filled her vision and Tara's heart stopped beating for a few seconds. She almost keeled over completely when Willow went straight in for a moist, enthusiastic kiss. It was definitely not the chaste kiss Tara had expected in thanks. When Tara gently pulled away, Willow was gazing up at her with rapt adoration on her face.
"Willow," Tara croaked weakly, wanting only to apologise and tell Willow that she was wrong to kiss her in that way but something kept the words from leaving her lips.
Willow just kept smiling, interpreting Tara's rather choked whisper as a sign of approval, "I know, I'll go put some clothes on and Faith and Buffy will take us home."
"Will..." Tara half-heartedly began to protest but Willow was already out of hearing distance.
Tara felt her heart skip more than several beats as she watched Willow move away from her through the throng of Kitty's patrons. She noticed how the crowd parted to let her through with no jeering or attempts to grab her. For a group of drunken men, they were almost respectful. Willow turned and glanced back at Tara over her shoulder, flashing a dazzling smile. Tara gulped noticeably. As Willow disappeared from sight, Tara turned and caught Faith's eye from where the brunette stood at the bar with a shot in hand. She gave a long, hard look that Tara couldn't decipher, only looking away when she downed the shot in a single gulp.
Ten minutes later, I find myself once again in the backseat of the Oldsmobile on my way to god knows where. Although I'm damned relieved to be out of that joint, the memory of what I saw in there plays insistently in my mind. I try to shake the image of little Willow Rosenberg wearing provocative leather clothing and dancing around a pole in front of a room full of men but it's well and truly stuck in there. And that's not even what really worries me...I see her perfect breasts, the creamy white skin of her arse and the way her hair falls around her face and upper body. My heart beats faster, my mouth goes dry and I know more than anything else, I want her...I want her and it terrifies me. Even more so when I look across at her as she is sitting next to me now. She's changed her clothes. She's wearing a black duffel coat with dinky wooden buttons and a fluffy hood sitting on her shoulders with her bright red hair tucked beneath it. From the corner of my eye I see a pair of red Converse peeking from beneath her jeans. The make-up has been hastily scrubbed from her face. Fuck, she doesn't even look fifteen...
Tara's alarm bells worked over time when Willow scooted across the space that separate them and burrowed into the crook of her arm. Her cheeks flushed red because the day's filth still clung to her like an ugly blanket. Willow smelt so sweet and clean despite the fact she had just been dancing.
"Uh, Willow, I wouldn't get too close to me if I were you...I stink like a pig," Tara looked down at the young woman who was gazing up at her.
Willow wrinkled her nose as though she could smell something foul and it was a few moments before Tara realised she was playing with her. Tara's lips very nearly curled up into a smile, the redhead was just too cute for her own good. She had to look away and settle for staring out the window, it was far less exciting, but also far less likely to have dangerous consequences. Beside her, she heard Willow giggle quietly and felt her body quiver.
"Tara, I've been waiting for this day for eight years, do you really think I'd let the fact that you're a little bit smelly stand in my way...hmmm, okay, the fact that you are very smelly!" Willow giggled again, "I honestly don't give a rat's arse, if you only knew how I've been missing you then you'd understand," Willow then straightened up so she could sit and look Tara in the eye, her face taking on a more serious expression, "I've missed you so much, the thought of you locked up in that awful place just for saving my life was making me sick. Those guys were scum and they deserved what you did to them. Almost from the moment I met Faith and Buffy I was badgering them to rescue you, we would have come sooner but you have no idea how long it takes and how many bribes you have to dish out to get someone on the inside in a prison...and Faith's not exactly prison guard material..."
"Hey!" Faith interrupted, breaking Willow's stream of incessant babble, "I am so prison guard material, look how butch I am for fuck's sake!"
"You're not as butch as you think you are...or as tough," Willow retorted, "But anyway, I shouldn't tease you when I haven't even thanked you and Buffy for pulling off Tara's rescue."
"Only for you kid," Faith replied, as she said it she met Tara's eyes in the rear vision mirror and gave her another of her long, hard stares, "Only for you."
Faith returned to focusing her attention on the road. Their stop had obviously come up faster than expected as she slammed on the brakes and wrenched the steering wheel hard to the right. The car slid violently, sending Willow straight into Tara's lap. When all was still again and the car had ground to a halt in front of a large, formerly opulent building.
Tara looked down at the young woman that had ended up in her lap. For a few moments she just stared at her, longing to reach down and brush the stray strand of hair that had fallen over Willow's eyes. She was poised to do so when the car door beside her opened suddenly and she glanced up to see Faith holding the door open. Biting her lip, Tara gently prised herself out from beneath Willow and exited the car. She was about to offer a hand to help Willow out but Faith brushed passed her and took Willow's hand instead. Tara was left to follow them inside, with Buffy bringing up the rear. She couldn't help but feel that the pint-sized assassin's hands were twitching on the handles of her katana.
Added to the threat from behind, on either side of the doorway were two gorgeous women. Their scanty leather attire not masking the fact that they meant business and knew how to use the Uzi's in their hands. They welcomed Faith and Willow with warm smiles but watched Tara through narrow eyes.
Faith released Willow's hand as they moved into the entranceway and turned to Tara, "Welcome to the Palace of Dreams!"
Tara eyes roved down at the black and white tiles that covered the floor, up at the massively vaulted ceiling above her and around at the dominating, solid wooden staircase that lead up to the next floor. She found that she was standing in the lobby of an old hotel, although to call it a Palace was akin to calling a sack a Givenchy gown. There was very little furnishing beyond a few leather couches that had seen better days, in fact, the whole establishment had seen better days. The whole dimly lit place gave off a distinct aura of long past opulence. Although on the whole, Tara had to admit it was nicer than anywhere she had ever lived.
"It's nice," she shrugged, only hoping that it had somewhere she could wash and sleep.
A smartly dressed young woman welcomed the small gang home from behind the desk to one side of the lobby. She wore a plain, almost conservative white shirt and her hair was pulled back into an even plainer ponytail. It was only when she stepped out from behind the desk that Tara saw she was wearing the shortest leather skirt ever made. The curve of each buttock protruded from behind it, showing off her pink panties. Her high heels showed off an exceptionally lithe leg and a pair of very slender ankles. She moved to embrace Willow with a warm smile.
"Hey Dawnie, how's business?" Willow asked, giving the taller girl a quick hug.
"It's slow tonight," the other girl shrugged and turned to regard Tara with a wry smile, "Who's your new friend? She looks kinda dirty."
"Ah Dawn, this is Tara...you know the Tara," Faith answered quickly, nodding discreetly in Willow's direction.
"Oh!" Dawn's face broke into an all-knowing smile.
Tara glanced around at each of the women's faces to see them sharing knowing glances. She was unnerved to see that even Buffy had a sort-of smile tugging at the corner of her lips.
"Who said business has been slow tonight?" a rather brash voice sounded from the lower landing of the stairs and all eyes turned to see the newcomer, "I've certainly been busy enough."
Tara's eyes widened at the sight of a scantily clad female making her way down the staircase in a pair of red pumps. The pumps matched her red garment, which appeared to be little more than a silk nightdress. Whatever it was, it was barely held up over her breasts by two thin straps and its length left little to the imagination. Her perfectly coiffed blonde hair sat in curls on her shoulders. With carefully calculated steps she made her way down the stairs and joined the group standing in the lobby.
"Haven't you heard all the excitement coming from my room?" she directed the question in Dawn's direction.
"Your vibrator's not a client!" Dawn shot back.
The woman in red let out an angry huff and shunned Dawn instead of rebutting the argument. She turned her attention to Tara who stuck out like a sore thumb as a stranger. The blonde crossed the short distance that separated them and stood in front of her with one hand on her hip, breasts thrust right under Tara's nose. She ran her tongue over her teeth as she looked Tara up and down, showing off her lipstick which was as bold as her attire.
"Who's this?" she purred, her voice now throaty and husky, "You know I don't usually do women, but I'll do her...as long as she has a bath first."
"Ah, Anya...this is Tara...Tara meet Anya," Faith quickly intervened as Anya appeared ready to jump Tara then and there, even without the bath first.
Anya's face quickly morphed from sultry and sexy into a rather annoyed pout as she realised she wasn't going to get her way with this dirty but mysterious new blonde.
"I suppose this is the Tara?" she asked, looking at the other ladies.
"Yes," Faith and Dawn replied at the same time.
Tara frowned as more knowing looks were passed amongst the ladies. She looked at Willow. The redhead's face now matched her hair and she sincerely appeared to want to sink through the floor. She kept her gaze downwards so she wouldn't meet Tara's eyes.
Tara sighed, it was all becoming too much to take in. She was more than used to lack of sleep but this day had taken a particular toll on her emotionally as well. Obviously Willow's intentions towards her went beyond thanks and friendship. Just the very thought of this was enough to make her want to run straight back out the hotel door. She didn't care how many bounty hunters would be waiting for her on the streets of Basin City, she just wanted to get away.
"Is there a shower in this joint?" Tara asked Faith, desperate to get away from Willow and hopeful of finally getting to shower in private after eight years.
"Yeah, sure thing, I'll show you...and we can probably rustle you up a room away from the business end of things so it's nice and quiet for ya," Faith nodded, their interaction earlier that evening forgotten, at least on her part.
"Make sure it's not next to Anya's room," Dawn quipped.
"Bite me Brittany," Anya growled angrily, retreating back up the stairs ahead of Faith and Tara.
Tara followed Faith, taking a last look at Willow over her shoulder. The young woman had finally allowed herself to take her eyes off her feet and had been staring at Tara's back. Her eyes widened slightly when Tara looked at her, as though she were surprised Tara had actually looked. Neither turned away, Tara continued to look even as she ascended the stairs. Little Willow Rosenberg, Tara's lips parted slightly at the sight of her standing down in the lobby. Her expression was somewhere between guilt and hope, but all Tara noticed was how small she was. Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted when she walked straight into Faith at the top of the landing. She looked up and met Faith's eyes defiantly.
"Eyes front blondie," Faith said as she continued up the stairs.
From the doorway of her own room, Willow had seen Tara slip out of the shower and make her way to the room Faith had made available for her. Tara's hair hung in wet strands down her back and she had a single white towel wrapped around her body. Willow watched the blonde's bare legs move with a graceful, stealthy beauty. Her eyes travelled up Tara's body to her shoulder where she saw a long-healed bullet wound. Willow remembered watching Tara's partner pull the trigger. Her own tongue had frozen to the roof of her mouth in fear and she had been unable to call out. She had suffered the guilt of knowing that she could have warned her rescuer of the threat from behind. Willow sighed, she was determined to spend however long it too to repay Tara.
She waited a few minutes to give Tara a chance to make herself decent before padding down the hallway to stand in front of Tara's door with a cup of coffee in hand. She was poised with her hand about to rap on the door when there was a small cough from behind her. Willow spun to see Faith leaning against the wall.
"Give her some space kid."
"But it's Tara!" Willow protested as she held up the steaming cup of coffee in her hand, "And I thought she could use a coffee."
Willow stared longingly at the door that was separating her from Tara. There was so much she had to say and she wanted to say it all right then. Faith just crossed her arms and refused to budge on the matter.
"She's just got out of prison, you have no idea what that does to a person. Trust me, she'll be needing her space," Faith said softly, crossing the hall to stand just behind Willow.
Willow dropped her gaze to the floor and spoke in a sad voice, "But I'm the reason that she spent all those years there."
Faith put a hand on Willow's shoulder, "Which is why, when she's ready, she'll talk to you. But for now kid, you gotta let her be."
"Alright," Willow whispered, allowing herself to be led away from the door, "But you don't know everything...you don't know her."
"You don't know her either Willow," Faith was quick to reply.
Willow snorted indignantly, stopping in the middle of the hallway to stare Faith down, "I know Tara..."
"The last time you saw her you were a twelve year old kid, how well could you know her?" Faith demanded, trying to pry Willow out of her infatuation.
Willow wasn't about to back down, "You wouldn't understand...and you're not..."
Faith quickly interrupted, "Yeah, I know I'm not your mother, but I'm the closest thing you've ever had to one so it might pay for you to listen to me once in a while. Okay?"
Willow bit her lip and just nodded in response. Faith half-heartedly grinned and reached out to give her a pat on the cheek. Willow watched her walk away before her gaze travelled back down the hallway to Tara's door and then back to the coffee cup in her hand. As she stared at the liquid she realised she had no idea how Tara took her coffee, she had just guessed that it would be black. Perhaps Faith was right and she had no idea who that woman was. Willow sighed and made her way back to the kitchen. The only thing she knew for sure was the way she felt...and in this city, love was damn hard to come by.
I listen to the voices outside my door, not quite hearing what they're saying. I just want them to go away. I stare at my reflection in the chipped little mirror hanging over the duchess. It's exactly the same face that I woke up to this morning while still in my cell. There's that same look in my eye, the same set to my jaw and that same damn scar...but something's changed and boy do I know why...little Willow Rosenberg. The kid saved my life...and more. I bring my fist crashing down on the edge of the duchess. It hurts and I'm glad. There shouldn't be more! What on earth have you gotten yourself in to? There can never be anything between you and her. You're an ex-cop who's done hard time for a violent act...hardly good credentials. You've got to get out of here, got to put some distance between yourself and that kid...