Willow disappeared into her room, emerging a moment later with a notebook and large textbook tucked under one arm. Tara studied the girl, who seemed so deflated since the subject of her future plans had been addressed.
"You're welcome to stay, but I really have to go."
"Actually, I need to check out of my hotel," Tara lied, "but I can drop you off at school on the way."
"You don't have to," Willow said softly, but made no move towards the front door.
"I know that," Tara replied, "but I'd still like to."
Willow had been avoiding the blonde's gaze, embarrassed by her own sullen behavior. She was just making small talk, trying to be nice, and I go and turn into snippy gal. Turning to look into Tara's eyes, she saw kindness, concern, and maybe a little... sadness? A slight smile graced the blonde's face, and Willow found herself returning it.
"I'd like that too."
Half an hour later Tara walked into Riley Finn's office to report on her progress. Finn reluctantly had to concede the advantage to having a female agent in the present situation. He was impressed with how quickly Agent Maclay had successfully initiated contact. With Phase I complete, he laid out her objectives for Phase II: an exhaustive search of the suspect's house, and extensive surveillance of the suspect herself, particularly focusing on anyone she met with. Finn demanded weekly written progress reports and immediate notification of anything suspicious.
"If she talks to anyone with even the slightest hint of a British accent, I want to know about it. Clear?"
"Yes sir," Agent Maclay responded. Tara relayed her brief conversation with Willow that morning, but refrained from revealing her personal opinions of the redhead or her mood shift. She knew that Finn, as a military man, wanted factual information only, and would most likely dismiss Tara's impressions as 'women's intuition.'
Following the meeting, Tara stopped by her apartment to retrieve the two suitcases she'd packed the night before, several plants, and a bag of groceries. She was back at Willow's house shortly after 2:00 pm, several hours before the redhead was due to be home.
"No time like the present," Tara stated aloud. She walked through the house looking for a promising place to start, and soon found herself standing in Willow's bedroom before a large oak roll-top desk. Bingo.
The top portion of the desk held nothing out of the ordinary. Carefully going through each drawer and cubby, Tara found a wide array of standard office supplies, numerous postcards from Willow's parents, and a small group of letters from two Army privates. The most recent, from Alexander Harris, was postmarked the previous week. The remainder - from Daniel Osbourne - had been sent to Willow at her D.C. address and were between two months and two years old.
Underneath the letters Tara found a small packet of photographs, all featuring Willow with one or two other people. Several showed the redhead with a dark haired boy and a blonde girl, some with just the former. Tara flipped absentmindedly through the photos before pausing over one. It showed a younger Willow with a different boy. Her long hair was pulled up, and both she and the young man stood in formal attire, arms linked, smiling broadly at the camera. The blonde found herself wondering where and when the snapshot had been taken, and for what occasion. A spark of jealousy passed through Tara as she contemplated who the young man might be to Willow, and where he was now. Berating herself silently, she returned the photos and letters to their place and moved on to the drawers on the lower right side of the desk.
The smaller top drawer held textbooks and several notebooks. Perusing the latter briefly, Tara ascertained that they were for school, and made a mental note to look through them more fully later. Underneath the notebooks she found a letter from the UC Sunnydale registrar confirming Willow's classes for the Fall 1943 semester. Monday, Wednesday and Friday the redhead had lectures from 8am until 2pm; Tuesday and Thursday she had only a lab, from 12:30 until 3. Tara frowned, trying to remember Willow's exact words from that morning.
'I have classes til 5 most days,' Tara recalled. Or was it 'I'm at school til 5 most days'? Maybe she spends the extra time in the library, or she could be part of a study group. It's probably nothing. The blonde attempted to rationalize away her sense of unease, but failed miserably.
The large lower drawer was filled with files, each neatly labeled with a course title, instructor name, and year taken. Tara marveled at the fact that they seemed to go back to her high school years. Randomly pulling out several, she noted the small, precise handwriting and the use of different colored pens, seemingly to prioritize the information.
She must have rewritten all of these, Tara realized. Well... that's... quirky, she thought with a bewildered smile as she placed the folders back in the drawer. Or quite possibly insane.
Moving on to the left side, the top drawer contained an ample supply of stationary and envelopes. When she tried the lower left drawer, she found it locked. Tara frowned as she tugged on it again.
Hmmm... not stuck... definitely locked. What's in the drawer Willow? What are you hiding? Agent Maclay knelt down to study the lock, which appeared simple enough. If I'd had the foresight to bring my lock picks, she thought with chagrin. Noticing the time, Tara stood up with a sigh.
It'll just have to wait til tomorrow. One way or another I'm getting into that drawer.
Willow walked through the door at 5:30 and came to an abrupt stop. Following her nose to the kitchen, she was met with the sight of Tara standing at the stove, stirring a large pot of spaghetti. The blonde's hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and as Willow watched unobserved, Tara wiped a bead of sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Willow's eyes widened and she blushed guiltily as Tara bent over to open the oven. The blonde turned to place a loaf of bread on the counter and spied the obviously flustered redhead in the doorway.
"Hi Willow. Dinner's almost ready," she said casually. The agent had heard the key in the lock several minutes before and had waited for Willow to make her presence known. Tara had sensed her entry into the kitchen, and had briefly wondered why the other woman had not spoken. When she heard a sharp intake of breath as she leaned over to open the oven, she understood. Upon turning and seeing Willow's flushed face and wide eyes focused several feet south of Tara's head, it was all but confirmed.
She was checking out my butt, Tara concluded in astonishment.
"You cooked!" Willow squeaked, snapping her gaze and her brain back to attention. Green eyes darted to the bread, the stove, to Tara for a split second, back to the bread, and finally dropped down to the safety of the floor, where they crinkled in confusion.
Oh Willow. You were checking out my butt, and you have no idea what it means.
"You um, shouldn't have - not that I'm not glad you did... and not 'you shouldn't have' like you're not allowed to... but you don't have to feed me... not that I thought you were going to actually, you know feed me... but - oh! Is that real butter?"
Tara was content to let Willow work through her babble in her own time. She was fascinated by the rapid play of emotions over the redhead's face.
Getting her to talk certainly won't be a problem, she realized, but what she'll say... I'm not sure even she knows until it comes spilling out.
Dinner was passed in casual conversation. Willow asked Tara about her work, family, and home. The blonde cringed mentally and tried to sound enthusiastic about being a stenographer. She made vague responses as to her background, not wanting to lie outright if possible, but unwilling to dredge up painful memories. Willow seemed to accept her hesitation, and did not push for more information.
After cleaning up, the two retired to the living room, where Tara read the paper while Willow studied - or pretended to. The blonde was fully aware of the sly sideways glances that were repeatedly directed at her. She couldn't help but be pleased, but also uncomfortably conscious of the futility of the situation. Not to mention that it was making it impossible for Tara to observe the redhead, who at last laid her book down with a groan. Tara looked at her inquisitively.
"This has got to be the most boring subject ever! And that's saying something, believe me. I think there must be a bunch of bitter, horrible people who write this stuff intentionally bad just to torture those of us forced to read it."
"So why are you taking it?" Tara cautiously inquired, hoping that her query wouldn't cause the redhead to close herself off again.
Willow just sighed, however, and looked contemplative as she regarded Tara.
"Honestly? My parents really want me to be an engineer, and I thought I'd like it too... and I did, at first. Now... I don't know."
"You could change majors," Tara suggested, anxious to keep the conversation going.
"I guess. It's hard, though. Everyone expects me to do this, you know? And I don't want to disappoint them, but... well, sometimes I don't want to do what's expected. When I was in high school my friends called me 'Old Reliable.' Isn't that horrible? And I just don't want to be reliable all the time. Maybe I want to do something crazy - shocking even - or downright dangerous," she finished, defiantly jutting out her chin.
"So what's stopping you?" Tara asked with a fair amount of trepidation.
Willow slumped back into the couch and shrugged.
"Oh, you know - fear... lack of direction... fear... respect for social mores - did I mention fear?"
Tara made no response, but felt a wave of relief wash over her at the redhead's words.
Willow stood and stretched, started to comment on the time, but it was swallowed by a wide yawn. Tara too felt the need for sleep overtake her after the day's myriad events. In the hall between their rooms Willow paused and turned to the blonde.
"I'm really glad you're here, Tara," she stated in a soft voice. "I know we just met, but I already feel like we're friends."
Tara stood speechless, forcibly willing herself not to let her emotions overwhelm her. However, this time when the redhead's arms wrapped around her she returned the hug, which did not push the boundaries of appropriate friendly contact.
"Goodnight Tara," Willow said, disappearing into her room.
"'Night, Willow," Tara responded in a low voice.
Tara closed her own door behind her and leaned against it heavily. Thoughts swirled around her head: laughing green eyes, the locked desk drawer, the class schedule, the unguarded look in the kitchen, the feel of Willow's arms around her...
In an instant Tara made the decision to trust her instincts. She would do her job. She would do it so well that she would leave nothing uninvestigated. She would follow every lead to the fullest. And when she was done she knew deep down that she would clear Willow Rosenberg of any suspicion. Tara trusted her gut, and it was telling her one clear thing:
If Willow's a Russian spy, then I'm Eleanor Roosevelt.