At 8:45 a.m. Tara pulled to a stop in front of a large unobtrusive office building and checked the address she'd been given the week before. She let out a sigh as she got out of her car. The words 'U.S. Army Administration Building' were engraved above the double glass doors, with no other indication of the offices housed inside.
Very stealthy, Tara thought as she walked into the small entryway occupied by a single gray metal desk. At her approach, the Corporal manning the desk looked up with an expression trapped somewhere between irritation and boredom.
"What can I do for you," he asked in a voice that clearly reflected his intention to do as little as possible.
"Tara Maclay to see Miss Calendar. I believe I'm expected."
"Down that hall, third door on the left," he answered curtly, jerking his thumb in the general direction and returning his attention to his Captain America comic.
Tara murmured an equally curt thank you and briskly walked away. The door indicated had 'Stenography Section 4' etched into the frosted glass. Upon entering, she was assaulted with the sound of phones ringing, voices speaking, and the clickety-clack of a dozen typewriters. The large open room held roughly twenty desks, identical except for the women sitting at them. Tara noticed that many of the women wore the tan skirts and blouses of the Women's Army Corps. To her left she saw a small private office marked Supervisor.
Okay Tara you can do this, it's only for a few hours, she convinced herself as she knocked and was bid to come in. The uniformed brunette sitting at the desk smiled warmly over her coffee mug as she gestured to a chair.
"Tara Maclay right? Commander Travers said you might stop by. Would you mind shutting that door-it's hard to think with that racket, much less hold a conversation."
"I appreciate you letting me barge in on so little notice, Miss Calendar."
"Call me Jenny, and it's no problem. I owed Quentin a favor, and he's spoken very highly of you. I assume he told you what we do here at Special Info Branch?"
"Well, more or less-probably less. I know that you monitor all calls to and from War Department buildings."
"Yeah, we spy on the spies-War Department, Army, government contractors-you name it. You wouldn't believe the paranoia out there... which is why I can give you a desk on loan, but the phone will not be activated."
"A desk will be fine. I hope-I mean, I don't plan to be here very long. Someone is m-meeting me at noon. It was kind of um, unexpected, but I don't think I'll need to impose any longer than that."
"Great. You look about as thrilled to be here as I do most days. I'm sure it's nowhere near as exciting as your line of work, but we're all on the same team, right?"
"If you don't mind my asking, what do the, um, others know about me?"
"Your name. They don't know you're government-a few of them are civilians, so they'll just assume you are too. As far as they're concerned you're here doing some work for one of the higher-ups. I doubt they'll ask about it."
Tara nodded with some relief as Jenny led her out into the office. Looking around the room, the agent saw only one empty desk. She noticed the other woman's grimace as she steered them in that direction. The brunette turned and gave her an apologetic smile.
"Hate to do this to you-Cordelia, you want to move your suitcase," Jenny stated, indicating the enormous makeup case occupying the open desk's chair. An imperious glare was leveled at the supervisor, followed by the most disingenuous smile Tara had ever seen.
"Tara Maclay, this is Cordelia Chase, that's Harmony Kendall, and next to her is Amy Madison. I'd tell you they don't bite, but that hasn't been confirmed. Enjoy your stay! Oh, and ladies," she added to the three stenographers, "try not to embarrass yourselves - or me."
The next three hours dragged on endlessly, and Tara found herself repeatedly checking the door while trying to work on her weekly report. Despite Jenny's assurances, she had been concerned that the three women would grill her about her work, but Cordelia and Harmony seemed far more interested in asking about her personal life-did she had a boyfriend, was he cute, in the military... The fact that she'd said no to the first question hadn't dissuaded the rest, though they spent most of the time discussing the men in their own lives. The third woman had remained quiet, seemingly working, but Tara could see out of the corner of her eye that Amy appeared to be eavesdropping while trying to look as though she wasn't.
At exactly noon Jenny walked up to Tara's desk to tell her she had a visitor. The blonde looked up with relief to see a smiling redhead standing shyly in the doorway, hands demurely folded in front of her. The agent gathered her things and practically bolted for the door.
"Willow!" she exclaimed with more exuberance than she intended. "I'm so glad you're here. Let's go." Get me the hell away from here now, she wanted to add.
The two barely spoke as they made their way to a nearby café. Despite the beautiful day, Willow led them inside, away from the crowded patio tables. After settling at a private table in a remote corner and giving the waitress their orders, Willow breached the silence.
"I'm sorry about showing up at your office like that... I usually wouldn't... but I didn't know what else to do. Tara, I've just wanted to talk to you so much the past couple of days, and all these... things... keep getting in the way. I know it's been kind of... awkward, you know, between us... but I don't want-you know, I had a whole speech planned out in my head, and now it's all confused, and... Tara? Say something? Please?"
The blonde had not been able to look at Willow since the redhead had begun talking. She knew they were going to have to talk, but part of her was secretly hoping for an interruption. She thought it ironic that she almost wished Riley would show up. As their drinks were served, she turned her eyes to Willow's, instantly recognizing her own confliction and confusion reflected back.
"I don't know what to say, Willow. What is it you w-want to hear?" She hadn't intended to sound so defensive, and the hurt look on the redhead's face made her instantly regret her harsh words.
"We kissed, Tara," she whispered after a nervous glance around the largely deserted room. "We kissed, and I thought-no. I know that it meant something to me. No one's ever made me feel that way before, and I thought you felt it to, but I just don't know, cause you keep running away from me."
Tara's heart swelled at the words and simultaneously ached at the sight of the redhead, head bowed, eyes reddening, lip quivering. She's in so much pain, yet she's still so brave. I can't keep hurting her. I-
"I d-do care for you Willow, and I'm sorry I've been... um, distant?" she began, choosing her words carefully. "It's just... it's so soon... and unexpected... a little overwhelming-there's so m-much we don't know about each other."
Willow's expression changed from despondent to hopeful to elated as the blonde spoke. Practically bouncing in her seat, she blew out a puff of air and waved her hand.
"Is that all? Tara, that's nothing! What do you want to know? I'm an open book - read me!"
"Come on Will, no one's an open book. Everyone's got secrets."
The words were out of Tara's mouth before she could stop herself, and a moment of uncomfortable silence descended, broken by the arrival of their food. The rest of lunch was devoted to safer topics, primarily films, which Willow claimed to be an expert on. Tara reluctantly remarked that her 'lunch hour' was almost over, but not before the tenacious redhead had extracted a promise of a movie that night. As they walked back to her office, Tara playfully chastised Willow for skipping class, and after several minutes she successfully tapped into the student's guilt and convinced her to go late. Standing outside the office building, they eyed each other shyly, both wanting something but uncomfortably aware of the public location. Finally summoning her nerve, Willow leaned in to plant a quick peck on Tara's cheek. The redhead grinned widely as she skipped to the bus stop, glancing back once to wave at the blushing blonde.
Once Tara saw Willow board the bus, she hurried to her car, eager to get to her real office. Halfway there she suddenly slammed on the brakes as a thought occurred to her.
Willow wasn't going to go to school... she didn't have her bag with her... it must be in her desk!
The agent made a quick u-turn and raced to the house, barely able to contain her excitement. As she walked into the house, the possibility that what she found in the drawer could potentially prove Willow's guilt gave her a moment's pause. Her anxiety mounted as she retrieved her lock picks, walked to the redhead's room, pulled out the chair, and knelt by the drawer. With shaking hands she manipulated the lock. She eased open the drawer and held her breath at the sight of the canvas bag. She glanced nervously around her as she lifted it out, half expecting to be caught snooping. She sat on the floor and began unpacking the contents, setting aside the notebook as she stacked the books between her outstretched legs. Picking up the first, she read the title: A History of Paganism. Scowling, she looked at the next: Griffin's Compendium of Pre-Christian Mythology. Rituals and Customs of the Ancient World. The Complete Anthology of Pagan Signs and Symbols. The Origin of Monsters: Witchcraft, Vampirism, and Lycanthropy in Medieval Europe. Tara opened the notebook, immediately recognizing Willow's precise penmanship. Page after page was filled with notes, outlines, and bibliographic information. Tara stared at the books strewn around her.
What the hell- Her perplexed expression faded as she remembered things the redhead had told her. A smile crept over her face, which quickly became a wide grin.
Willow you big goof, I knew you weren't a spy. Oh, but sweetie, I don't think you'll ever be an engineer.