Friday morning Willow woke first, snuggling closer to Tara as her hyperactive brain replayed the events of the night before.
She loves me... and I love her... and she loves me... and she's so... wow... and her kisses ... and she sang... and we - are we lovers?... we didn't get all naked... but we... I do believe that counts... mmmm... naked Tara... lovers... Tara's my lover.
Tara opened her eyes just as a full-blown smirk spread over the redhead's face.
"Whatcha thinkin' 'bout sweetie?"
Willow leaned in to kiss the blonde, slowly at first but deepening as both women began to fully wake up.
"That, for starters."
"Mmmm... yummy," Tara murmured. "Been up long?"
"Nuh-uh," the redhead replied, resuming the kiss and letting her hand drift up to caress Tara's breast.
"Um, Willow?" Tara squeaked.
"Much as I'm enjoying this, don't we have to get up?"
"Hmph. You're mean," Willow pouted, sitting up but not moving from the bed. Tara scooted behind her and wrapped her arms around the redhead's chest. Willow's mouth dropped open and she whimpered as Tara began licking her ear.
"Don't worry my love... I'll make it up to you later... say, 5:30?... meet back here?"
"Uhh... god, Tara... I... ohhhh that's nice... but... tonight... dance... Anya... picking me up at 6."
Tara's mind raced as she moved her attention to Willow's neck, eliciting a drawn-out sigh. Okay, technically not playing fair, but it's for the best.
"You could call and cancel," she tempted, her voice low and sultry. "Tell her you're sick - you'll go to the next one."
Tara began gently nipping her lover's neck, following each bite with a long suck. She moved her hands to Willow's small breasts and pulled the slight body back into her, smiling at the stiffening nipples and the deep moan the redhead released. Thinking she may have successfully persuaded the other woman, Tara tensed when she felt her hands pulled away. The redhead maneuvered herself so that they were facing each other, then entwined their fingers together.
"I kinda get the feeling that you don't want me to go to this dance, Tara... and I think I know why."
Before Tara could speak, Willow raised a finger to the blonde's lips and continued.
"I wish it was you I was going with - and I know that you already have plans - I should have mentioned it sooner. But I swear there's nothing going on - Anya's just a friend... well, more like the really annoying fiancée of a friend... but my point is that there's no reason to be jealous."
Tara bit her bottom lip to prevent an untimely laugh and bowed her head in an attempt to appear relieved. Willow brightened immediately and flashed a big grin.
"But just because I said I'd go doesn't mean I have to stay long! So... is it okay?"
Absolutely not, emphatically NO, she thought. But you obviously take a promise very seriously, and I adore you for it. And since I can't persuade you by word or deed, I'll just have to settle for keeping you safe.
"Uh-huh," she said aloud.
The morning was over far too soon, and the redhead left for school, closely followed by Tara. The agent made sure Willow entered her first classroom before she hurried to her car. She knew she was directly disobeying orders - that she was expected to keep close watch on the redhead all day - but she didn't care.
The hell with protocol - they can fire my ass, she thought as she left the university parking lot. At least then I could tell her why she shouldn't be at that damn dance.
Tara marched into her office and strode directly to Travers' door.
"I need to see him - now," she commanded.
Buffy depressed the intercom, but Tara was already through the door before she heard the secretary's voice call out over the receiver: "Agent Maclay to see you sir." The agent sat down without bothering to wait for an invitation. Travers' mouth twitched in the barest hint of an amused smile, and he instructed Miss Summers to hold all calls.
"I assume it must be important for you to barge into my office in such a manner, Agent."
"Yes sir," she replied evenly, not about to apologize.
Travers leaned back in his chair and gestured for her to speak.
"It's about the stakeout tonight," she began, assuming he had already been brought up to speed since his return. At his nod, she continued. "Everything I have discovered about Miss Rosenberg leads me to the conclusion that she is not the Rose, but Agent Finn does not share my belief. The problem is that she is going to be at the dance, and I know Finn is going to take that as proof of her guilt. Now, I know it looks suspicious, but it really is just a coincidence - a friend of hers is a USO girl. I'm concerned that while Finn is focused on Willow, the real Rose and the Brit are going to slip past us."
Tara felt herself getting flustered as she tried to explain the situation without giving away her feelings.
Travers listened attentively, accurately gauging the blonde's agitated state as a personal fondness for the suspect, but not reading any more into it. He let the agent compose herself before he replied.
"Do you know why I gave you this assignment, Agent Maclay?"
"Because you needed a female operative to move into her house?' she guessed, frowning in confusion at the change of topic.
"That was convenient, I'll admit, but no. The reason I picked you is because I've been watching you Miss Maclay. Most agents rely on training - intellect, rules, practicalities. A few depend solely on instinct, but those ones never last. You, Miss Maclay, utilize both. That is a rarity indeed, and when properly balanced make for an agent of the highest caliber. That is why I gave you this assignment."
Tara stared at her boss, who stood and walked to her chair, raising an arm to guide her out of the office. As they reached the door, he stopped and faced her.
"I'll speak to Agent Finn. But now I believe you're supposed to be on surveillance. Oh, Tara... I won't forget how well you've handled this case."
The blonde merely nodded as she left, feeling immensely relieved, and more than a little dazed.
The rest of the day was spent discretely following Willow from class to class, to Giles', and finally back home. As tempting as it was to go in, Tara knew she would not be able to dissuade the redhead from going, and she needed to keep her distance in order to focus on protecting Willow. Shortly before 6:00, a car pulled up in front of the house. The woman she recognized as Anya got out and skipped to the door, which was promptly opened by Willow. Tara inhaled sharply as she took in the sight of her lover, illuminated under the porch light. She wore a simply cut gown, and the agent smiled at the thought that the redhead was not trying to impress any young man at the dance. Despite its simplicity, the shimmering green dress matched Willow's eyes, and Tara knew she had never seen a sight so breathtaking as her gorgeous girl.
The blonde waited until the two had rounded the corner before following. In the parking lot she hastily tied her hair into a loose bun and reached into the glove box for the walkie-talkie she'd been assigned. When her hand fell on the revolver, she paused before loading it and throwing it into her purse along with the radio.
As she walked toward the Lodge, her trained eyes spotted several of her fellow agents at their posts. Stepping inside she saw Willow and Anya make their way through one of three sets of double doors leading into the ballroom. The sounds of the orchestra playing a lively swing tune drifted out into the lobby. The ballroom was well lit, but Tara found that by staying close to the wall she could remain hidden in the shadows. She edged her way to a deserted corner where she could observe most of the main room as well as the doors. A large decorative pillar provided adequate cover as she watched Willow and Anya sit at one of several large round tables scattered around the room. A soldier asked Anya to dance almost immediately, and the agent stared daggers at the man.
Oh, so you'd rather twirl around with that blonde instead of my beautiful redhead?... hmph... guess there's no accounting for taste... hey... what do you think you're doing, sailor-boy?... stop smiling at my girl! At least it's - well, it WAS - a fast song... hey! Watch those mitts, buster!
Tara bristled as she watched Willow dance with the young man, who maintained a gentlemanly distance from the redhead. When they parted after one number, the agent breathed a sigh of relief. For almost an hour it continued - Tara fretting if no one asked Willow to dance, and seething if one did. When she saw the redhead check her watch, she decided to wander over as if just arriving. With luck they'd be out the door in five minutes.
Tara retraced her steps along the wall, and had just reached the doors when the familiar strains of their song began to play. Coming to a standstill, she looked to where the redhead sat and saw the sailor who had first asked Willow to dance approach the table. The conflict on the redhead's face was evident as she tried to beg off. The young man was persistent however, and Tara knew that the women were not supposed to refuse a dance. That knowledge did not prevent her dismay at seeing her love in the arms of another, and from the look on Willow's face it was clear that she wasn't happy about it, either.
Tara was momentarily lost in thoughts of marching out onto the floor to claim her dance, and didn't realize that she had stopped in front of the doors until someone crashed into her shoulder.
"Watch it, luv," the man spat out as he stalked off toward the left side of the hall. Tara glared at his back a moment before his accent clicked in her mind. Following in the direction he'd taken, she spied him easily by his unnaturally white-blonde hair. She came to a sudden halt when she saw him approach a woman holding a small briefcase and wearing a hat decorated with a single large red rose.
It's them - it has to be... okay Maclay, keep calm... need to call for backup... what the hell?... that's... that's the girl from... Melody? - no - Harmony!
The pair anxiously looked around as they talked. Tara felt in her purse for her radio, but did not yet draw it out. She quickly glanced over to the dance floor, freezing as her eyes made contact with the green ones she adored; eyes that blinked in confusion before lighting up along with a smile. Knowing she'd been spotted, Tara raised her forefinger in an attempt to buy herself a minute. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the Brit and the Rose heading for the side door. She ran after them, jerking out the walkie-talkie and calling out "suspects exiting through west doors - repeat, suspects exiting to west." As she reached the doors, she felt a hand on her arm.
"Tara, you made it!"
"Willow, stay here," the agent ordered, turning away.
"What... why... Tara, what's going on?" the redhead frantically asked, increasing her grip on the blonde's arm.
"Not now - just stay inside."
Tara roughly pulled her arm free and ran through the doors, drawing her gun from her bag. The suspects stood not ten feet away and both looked up, startled, as Tara burst into the alley.
"Freeze!" she shouted, raising her weapon and taking a few cautious steps closer. Without hesitating, the blonde man shoved Harmony at the agent and ran, only to be met at the end of the alley by seven more agents with guns leveled at him.
Tara had easily subdued the Rose, who began crying hysterically and whined: "I can't believe that jerk! He said he loved me." Tara waited with the woman until Finn and another agent came to place her under arrest. Before they led her away to join the Brit, Riley turned to nod at Tara.
"Good work, Agent Maclay. I guess you were right about Rosenberg."
As Finn walked away Tara heard a choked cry behind her, and her blood ran cold as she turned and confirmed what she already suspected. Green eyes as big as saucers stared at her in shock.
"Willow- please... let me explain."
Tara took a tentative step towards her love, who backed away in response. The door they'd come through swung open and Anya's head appeared.
"Hey, there you are! What on earth are you doing out - oh! Is this the lesbian? Hi! I'm Anya!"
Tara couldn't respond, too focused was she on the redhead, who avoided the blonde's gaze. After several painfully long moments, Willow quietly spoke in a voice raspy with emotion.
"Anya, please take me home."