Return to Secrets and Spies Chapter Three

Secrets and Spies

Author: Tarawhipped
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: All characters are property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy.

Willow mentally smacked herself in the forehead.

"I mean, I'm Willow," the redhead stated, "And you must be-"

"Tara Maclay," the blonde finished, as she reached out shake the offered hand, totally unaware of the cause of the other woman's consternation.

The two women continued to gaze at each other intently. After several long moments had passed, each became conscious that they were still holding hands, but neither seemed willing to break the contact. Just as the intensity of the silence was becoming uncomfortable, the shrill bark of a dog down the street broke their reverie.

Tara jumped at the sharp noise, causing her hand to at last drop from Willow's.

"It's nice to m-meet you Miss Rosenberg," Tara said, determined to regain her professional demeanor. She frowned slightly at her stutter. Hmm... haven't done that in a while. Must be big-important-assignment jitters.

"Please call me Willow," the redhead replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. Having noticed the blonde's frown, she added, "don't worry, this really is a quiet street. Lady Macbeth must have spied the postman."

"Lady Macbeth?"

"The dog," Willow clarified. "So, would you like to come in? Cause I suppose you want to see the room, and it's inside... well, I guess that it goes without saying-though here I am saying it-but it's in the house, 'cause who'd want to rent a room that wasn't in a house? That's be like a shack, or a shed, and you don't look like you'd want to live in a shed. So would you?"

Tara looked at the redhead with wonder. If her mind moves as fast as her mouth... oh boy... bad thoughts.

"Would I like to live in a shed?" she asked as seriously as possible.

"Oh! No! Would you like to come in? I didn't mean to- hey! You knew what I meant, didn't you?" Willow accused as Tara's grin threatened to overwhelm her face.

"Yes," Tara laughed, "and I'm sorry for teasing you but your ah, thought process is a little umm, overwhelming."

"That's okay. Actually, I'm surprised you could follow it. Most people just tell me I'm babbling and look at me like I'm nuts."

Willow smiled sheepishly as she ushered the blonde inside. Her panic at having a stranger move into her home completely forgotten, she proceeded to lead Tara on a grand tour of the house.

"Well, I guess grand was a bit of an overstatement," Willow remarked apologetically when five minutes after they had begun they were standing in the spare room. "There's not much to tour. This is the room, though. It comes with the furniture, but if you have your own I can get rid of this stuff. That desk can go if you don't like it. And I'm so sorry about the wallpaper, but it can be painted over. Oh! I meant to put some flowers on the dresser but I forgot. But I can get some."

Willow paused for a breath before adding in a small voice, "that is, if you decide to take it."

Tara stood quietly throughout Willow's appraisal of the room. Of course she would take it - that's why she was there. Infiltrating Willow Rosenberg's home was just the first step of her assignment. Agent Maclay knew how important her work was, but she couldn't help feeling a little conflicted as she approached the successful completion of stage one. Were it just the obvious and immediate physical attraction she'd felt for the redhead, she would have thought nothing of it. It would be uncomfortable, yes, but it would not affect her ability to handle the case. What she had been totally unprepared for was how much she liked Willow. As a person she gave Tara the same impression her voice had: open, exuberant, babbly. Tara knew she could not allow any feelings of affection to cloud her judgment in the investigation. She also knew that the investigation would proceed with or without her. Well aware of how Travers had gone out on a limb for her, Tara was determined to earn that trust, and prove herself to Riley and the rest of the boys' club as well.

"I l-love the desk," Tara began, "and I was hoping it would be furnished. I just moved here and I've been staying in a hotel. The wallpaper... well, I've um, seen worse."

Willow cringed and opened her mouth to protest, but before she could speak Tara continued.

"It actually kind of reminds me of my grandmother's house. I don't m-mind it, really. And um, if it's okay with you, I'll take it."

The redhead had stood nervously waiting as Tara silently took in the room. Unable to read the other woman's expression, Willow had determined that the blonde was trying to figure out how to politely decline. Whereas half an hour earlier she had been convinced that a housemate was the worst idea ever, Willow now found herself inexplicably anxious for Tara to move in. When she heard 'I'll take it,' the redhead bounced over to the other girl and gave her a quick hug.

Tara stiffened at the contact, but Willow had already stepped away and was too lost in her own excitement to notice the blonde's reaction.

"Why don't you have a seat in the living room and I'll make us some tea," Willow's voice called out from halfway down the hall.

Once the tea was prepared and the women were comfortably seated on Willow's couch, they discussed the particulars of the living arrangements. Rent was agreed upon and keys handed over. Tara provided several references despite the redhead's protestations that they were unnecessary. Somewhat nervously, Willow broached the subject of house rules.

"One, no smoking." At Tara's nod she continued. "Two, no um... well errr, no visitors of the uhhh, male type persuasion, you know, umm... overnight."

Tara would have burst out laughing if she hadn't seen the pained expression on Willow's face and the blush creeping up past her ears.

"It's just that, well, the neighbors are kind of nosy, and people talk, and I know it's stupid, 'cause come on people, it's 1943 already, and I don't want you to feel like you're living in a convent, but-"

Tara gently laid a hand on Willow's arm and gave it a light squeeze.

"Willow, it's okay. I understand and you don't have to worry. I promise - no men."

Willow let out a sigh of relief. Quickly changing the subject, she told Tara to feel free to move in any time.

"I'm at school most days until five, but if you need any help after that, I'd be happy to assist."

Tara hastily replied that she had very little to move, and could easily gather it all herself that afternoon. The blonde agent then inquired about Willow's studies.

"I just transferred to UC Sunnydale in the fall as a junior. I did my first two years in D.C., but took a year off to work."

Willow went on at length about the engineering classes she'd taken, the lack of women in the program, and how excited she was about her new college. Tara noticed that the redhead did not elaborate on her work-but it was top secret, of course.

"So you want to be an engineer?"

Willow shifted on the sofa, unwrapping her legs from where they'd been curled underneath her. The redhead stared off into space for a long moment before fixing her gaze at a spot on the floor by her feet.

"Well, uhhh, maybe? I've kind of been... I haven't decided if... it's not that I..." Willow struggled to find the right words before giving up with an exasperated sigh. She sat forward and reached for her teacup, draining it's contents and looking into it as if to see her fortune. "I guess I've just been... heading in another direction lately. It makes me think that I'm meant to do something... different."

Willow stood suddenly and moved to take the tea set into the kitchen. The shift in her demeanor was palpable. Gone was the bubbly energy and chattiness. Despite only having known her for several hours, the sight of Willow agitated and silent disturbed Tara.

"Look, I hate to rush off, but I really have to get to class."

Tara watched Willow's profile intently. She reflected on the fidgeting, the furrowed eyebrows, the carefully chosen words that said little.

She's definitely hiding something, Tara mused, but who isn't?

Continue to Secrets and Spies Chapter Five

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