Willow attacked a clump of weeds with ferocious determination. Waking early after a restless dream-filled night, she had thrown on a work shirt and a pair of old jeans to clear away the debris from the storm. Her work had led her around to the side of the house, where the Victory garden planted by the previous owner had fallen into a state of decay. Willow had immediately sunk to her knees and proceeded to rip out the tangled mass with her hands. Now, hours later, the redhead was sweaty and disheveled, and her garden was not only weed-free, it was plant-free as well.
So much for doing my patriotic duty, she grumbled silently. It looks like a stray bomb landed in my yard.
Willow pushed herself to her feet, staggering a little as pins and needles shot through her aching muscles. Stiffly walking around to the front porch, she sat down on the steps with a thud.
Tara must be up by now. I can't stay out here all day. Gotta go face the music sometime... hmph - you hear music, you don't see it, so how can you face - okay, not the point. I just need to march right in there and apologize... just say flat out 'hey Tara, I'm really sorry I almost attacked you on the couch last night, but with the storm and the killers and the dark and the... big blue eyes and the oh-so-kissable full lips-' Okay, that could use some work. What the frilly heck am I doing? I should call Anya - she'll tell me what's wrong with me - in detail, possibly with pictures... and a pie chart.
An incredulous expression spread over Willow's face as she sunk her head in her hands, mirroring her posture from the previous evening.
I was gonna kiss her... I wanted to kiss her - and she's a HER - and she so obviously didn't want me to, what with the freaking and the running away. I practically threw myself at her - what must she be thinking? What was I thinking? Was I even thinking at all? She's probably packing right now, and I'll never see her again, and... oh Goddess, I don't want her to go. I want - I have to stop her! I'll apologize, beg her forgiveness - grovel, even. Must make Tara stay!
Willow stood up with resolve, walked boldly through the door, and strode to the dining room table, where Tara sat eating lunch. The blonde kept her head lowered, eyes focused on her meal as the redhead approached. Willow took a deep breath, preparing to make an eloquent plea for Tara to forgive her and stay.
"Are you going to move out?" The unexpectedly high-pitched voice blurted out.
Tara nearly choked on her soup. Coughing and sputtering, she raised frantic eyes to Willow, who looked to be on the verge of hysteria herself.
"Y-you w-want m-me to m-move out?"
"NO!" Willow shouted. Looking into Tara's watering eyes - from emotion or choking she couldn't be sure - the redhead felt a dull pain seize her chest. "Tara - no. I just thought that you might... that after last night... what with me and the grabbiness - which will NEVER happen again - but I just... I wasn't sure you'd want to live here anymore... you know, with me," she finished in a voice barely above a whisper.
Tara's panic subsided as Willow spoke. She had watched from the kitchen window as the redhead had furiously shredded the garden. She knew the other woman was blaming herself for Tara's abrupt departure the night before, and she didn't know how to tell the redhead that it was okay without encouraging her further. Her initial reaction to Willow's question was to assume that she was being asked to leave. If that were to happen, Tara's career would almost certainly be over, but that thought was secondary to her fear of being forced out of Willow's life.
"I don't want to leave," she replied quietly, thankful for not stuttering, and for the knowledge that, at least for one moment, she could be entirely truthful.
Willow had unconsciously gripped the back of a chair in her distress, her knuckles turning white while she waited for the blonde's response. When the soft words reached her ears she relaxed her hold, her eyes drifting closed and a silent mantra of 'thankyouthankyouthankyou' coursing through her brain.
"I really, uh, need to take a shower, but maybe after that... we can talk?"
"Okay," Tara murmured, turning a forced smile and tired eyes to the redhead, who returned the look and moved off down the hallway. Tara watched her go with regret.
I have to put a stop to this - whatever THIS is. Maybe I should go. I've gotten too close. I could call Finn right now and ask to be reassigned. And... and tell him what? He'd just send in some Junior G-man who wouldn't give a damn about her - argh! Listen to yourself Maclay! Best case scenario and she's NOT a spy, you think she's just going to gratefully throw herself into your arms when she finds out you've been lying to her?
The shrill ringing of the telephone preempted Tara's distraught speculations. She heard Willow call out from the shower for her to answer it.
"Willow Rosenberg's residence."
"This is Sheila Rosenberg, to whom am I speaking?"
"This is, um, Tara Maclay - Willow's housema-"
"Yes, of course, Willow mentioned she was taking in a boarder. May I speak with my daughter?"
"She's in the, umm, s-shower. I could give her a mes-"
"Just tell her that her father and I are in town. Have her meet us at the Conners in half an hour. Thank you so much Karen."
Without so much as a goodbye the line went dead. Tara stared dumbfounded at the phone.
Well that was just... rude. How on Earth did Willow - sweet, considerate, babbly Willow - come from that?"
The redhead in question was at that moment walking down the hallway, wearing only a short silk robe.
"Who was that?" she asked as she toweled her hair dry.
"Your, um, m-mother," Tara stammered, trying to avert her eyes from the tempting sight of Willow's bare legs. "She and your dad are here - they want you to meet them in a half hour... at the Conners."
Willow's body sagged noticeably and a stream of mumbled curses escaped her pursed lips.
"I take it you're not happy to see them?"
"Oh, you know, they're parents. They pretty much ignore me 99 percent of the time, then try to make it up to me and alleviate their guilt all in one long boring evening. I'll probably be stuck with them the rest of the day, but... if it's not too late, maybe we could still, uh... talk... when I get home?"
"I'd invite you to join us, but I don't secretly dislike you," Willow playfully explained, grinning widely.
Tara debated following the Rosenberg family, but decided it probably wasn't necessary, and in the end opted for a night off. Feeling a desperate need to put some distance between herself and the case, she called the one person who knew all her secrets - the one person - for now - she could be herself with.
"Hey - it's me. What are you doing tonight?"
Willow trudged up the porch steps, feeling emotionally and physically drained. She looked at her watch and grimaced at the time.
Tara must be asleep by now, she thought, cursing her parents. However, as she quietly entered the house and padded softly down the hall, she heard muted laughter coming from the spare bedroom. Noticing the light still on, she glanced through the half open door and stopped dead in her tracks. Tara sat brushing her hair at her desk, dressed in a long satin nightgown. Although the other woman faced away from the door, Willow took a step back further into the shadows of the dark hallway. Her breath hitched as she saw the blonde's smile in profile. Following the direction of the smile, her eyes fell on a pair of shoes.
Whose shoes? - whose men's shoes, that appear to contain actual feet... that are most definitely attached to legs... legs wearing pants... lounging on the bed... there's a man in there... with Tara... who's in a slinky nightgown. There's a man in there, and she's practically naked, and they're all 'la-la-la' with the laughing... and it's late - LATE late - and she's getting ready for bed... and there's a MAN in there!
Willow became increasingly agitated and indignant as her mind struggled to wrap itself around the scene in front of her.
Did I not stress the house rules? It's not like there was a big long list of rules - there were two... TWO rules! And just who the heck does that guy think he is, lounging around in MY house... ogling MY Tara... whuh?.
Willow suddenly and loudly cleared her throat. Tara turned to the door with a brilliant smile.
"Willow, you're ba-"
"Miss Maclay, may I speak to you in the living room - alone?" The redhead stalked off without a backwards glance, and Tara instantly followed, her brow creased in concern.
"Is something wrong, Wil-." Tara started, but was cut off by the other woman, who struggled to maintain a steady gaze with the blonde.
"I thought I made it clear when you moved in that I had several rules," Willow began. She paused, seeing the confusion on Tara's face, then horrified realization. The redhead jumped when Tara shouted down the hallway:
"SUE! Are you smoking?!"