"W-willow... wait... please," Tara pleaded as she began to raise her arm to reach out to the redhead, realized it still held the gun, and let it drop lamely back down to her side. Willow hadn't looked at the agent in minutes that seemed like forever to Tara. When at last the green eyes lifted, they could barely focus through the tears pooling in their depths. Again Tara took a half step toward her, stopping abruptly at Willow's whispered words:
"Who are you?"
"NO!" Willow shouted, covering her ears with her hands and shutting her eyes tightly. She shook her head violently before turning suddenly cold emerald slits to the agent. "I don't want to hear it."
The redhead had already run inside before Tara recovered from her shock. She lunged for the door, only to be barred by Anya.
"I don't care who you are," she said, her voice dripping icicles, "but I think you need to leave her alone."
With that Anya spun on her heel and stalked through the door, slamming it shut behind her.
The next morning, Tara couldn't remember leaving the alley. She didn't remember getting into her car. She had no memory of driving anywhere. She didn't recall arriving at Sue's house after midnight. She did not remember crying hysterically as her friend helplessly tried to find out what was wrong. And she did not know when she had fallen asleep on the couch, tucked under a quilt, exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The next morning, all Tara could remember was Willow's strangled sob, the heartbroken look on her face, and the pain in her voice. The blonde sat cross-legged on the sofa, wrapped tightly in the quilt as if trying to convince herself that the tremors wracking her body were the result of the cold.
Willow ran blindly through the ballroom, out the lobby, and was halfway across the parking lot before she realized she didn't know where she was going. As Anya caught up with her and guided her to the car, Willow's attention was drawn to a crowd of people. She stopped to watch a man and a woman being forced into separate cars by a number of men in dark suits.
Then she saw Tara. The blonde was walking from the direction of the alley, and Willow felt her heart drop into her stomach. The woman's movements were jerky as she staggered amongst the cars, and even with the distance and the dark Willow could see that Tara's face was soaked with tears. She saw Tara reach her car and collapse against it, shaking, and it was all Willow could do not to run to her.
"Willow?" Anya's surprisingly gentle voice questioned.
The redhead dropped her eyes and got into the car without another glance.
At home Anya tried to get Willow to talk to her, and for once the redhead believed her friend was genuinely concerned, not just seeking gossip. But Willow found that she could not speak. She just felt... numb. The only sensation that she recognized was the burning in her eyes from the tears that had welled there, but refused to fall. When Anya finally asked Willow if she wanted her to stay, all the redhead could do was slowly shake her head.
Once she was alone, Willow drifted through the house like a sleepwalker, locking the door, shutting off the lights, changing into her nightgown. Minutes ticked by as she stood in the doorway to Tara's room, trying to make sense of the phrases swirling around in her head:
Finally she shuffled to the bed and lay down, curling herself around a pillow, finding an uneasy comfort in the lingering scent of Tara. At last the tears flowed.
If Tara had been a wreck Friday night, Saturday morning she was a twenty-car pileup with no survivors. Sue had finally managed to get the girl to calm down enough to explain what had happened, and had spent several hours trying to convince her that it couldn't be that bad, but there had been no consoling the agent.
"Look, Tara, you have to face her sometime. At the very least you're going to have to go back for your things," the brunette said as gently as she could. Panicked blue eyes shot up at her before the blonde again buried her face in her hands.
"Well, what the hell do you want me to say? For Christ's sake, Tare, so she reacted badly! Weren't you expecting that? Wouldn't you be shocked, even angry? But maybe she's had time to calm down and you can explain."
Tara shook her head, unable to get the echo of Willow's words out of her mind: "I don't want to hear it".
"She hates me," she proclaimed bitterly.
"You don't know that. And you're never going to find out one way or another until you get off your ass and talk to her. It's gotta be your move, Tare - she doesn't know where you live or work, she doesn't know your phone number." Sue paused, deciding to change tactics. "That's convenient for you, isn't it, Tare? You can just walk away, chalk it up to 'never meant to be' and bail out so you don't have to wade through the muck. Then you can go back to being alone and feeling sorry for yourse-"
Tara flew off the sofa, her fist connecting hard with Sue's jaw, sending the brunette stumbling backwards. The agent cringed in pain, cradling her bruised hand, while Sue's chin seemed none the worse for wear.
"Goddammit... Sue, I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I had to do something to get you off my couch. Nice shot, by the way."
"So you said all that just to-"
"I said it because it's the truth, and you know it. Whatever's going to happen, you can't just avoid it by hiding out here. You need to see her, for both your sakes. And I'd say the sooner the better."
Tara's entire body slumped as she accepted the inevitable. Willow deserved an explanation. And if nothing else, she owed Willow the opportunity to slam the door in her face.
"I... I will, I'll go today," she resolved, the fear still evident in her eyes. Off of her friend's glare, she amended with a defeated sigh, "I'll go now."
Tara had driven directly to Willow's house before her resolve faltered. She sat in her car for a half an hour trying to steady her nerves. She walked purposefully to the front door, where she stood for a full ten minutes before knocking. When it went unanswered for several minutes, Tara thought with a mixture of trepidation and relief that perhaps the redhead was not home. Just as she was about to turn and go, the door opened.
Willow looked a mess. Her hair was disheveled, and the puffy eyes rimmed with dark circles were ample testimony to lack of sleep and crying. She wore the same jeans and work shirt Tara had previously seen, their loose fit seeming to swallow up the small woman.
The two stared at each other for several minutes without actually making eye contact. When Willow stepped aside to allow Tara entrance, the blonde breathed a sigh of relief.
At least I didn't get a facefull of door, she thought, but her gratitude quickly shifted to panic as Willow moved to leave the house.
"W-where are you g-going?"
"I thought you'd want to be alone," the redhead stated, her voice hushed and expressionless, "while you packed. I'll just... take a walk... get out of your way."
"P-p-pack?... Willow... that's not w-why I'm here," the blonde stammered, totally unprepared for Willow's lack of emotion. "I w-want to explain... you don't understand."
"What don't I understand?" The redhead demanded, an edge creeping into her voice. She slammed the door and faced Tara, who looked back at her in surprise. "That you were here to spy on me? That I was under investigation for suspicion of being a Russian spy?"
"Agent Finn came by earlier looking for you. He said you never reported in last night and you weren't at your... apartment, either. Anyway, he told me a little and gave me the standard 'your country would appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone about this little misunderstanding' speech. So what exactly don't I understand Agent Maclay. Is Tara Maclay even your name?"
Tara felt the tears beginning again, and she fought the urge to flee from the house.
"Of course it is... Willow... I... I w-was only trying to h-help."
"Help?! By making me think you loved me? Was that part of your job? Get the suspect to fall for you and see if she talks in her sleep?"
"Is that what you think? That I was trying to seduce you for information?"
"Weren't you?" Willow's voice broke, and Tara made a move toward her, but refrained as the redhead flinched.
"Willow... look at me... please," Tara pleaded softly. The green eyes that met hers were filled with sadness and uncertainty. "I fell in love with you despite my job, not because of it. I should have taken myself off of this investigation the moment I realized I had feelings for you, but I couldn't because I wanted to be the one to prove your innocence. I love you Willow. Whatever secrets I've had to keep, whatever lies I've told... that is the truth. I know you don't have any reason to believe me, but I only lied about my job and what I was doing here."
"What about 'Donnie'?"
Tara cringed, but acquiesced.
"I didn't know he would show up like that. I was afraid he would say he was my boyfriend, and I panicked."
"And your parents? Was any of that true?"
"Every word. I have a copy of my mother's obituary if you want to see for yourself."
The redhead's eyes narrowed at the remark, but one look in Tara's told her that the statement was not made in sarcasm, but as a genuine offer of proof. When she next spoke, Willow's voice was raw with the emotional turmoil of the past day.
"I don't want any of this! I want everything back the way it was before last night. I don't want to know that people have been watching me, suspecting me, lying to me. I want... I want to come home to my roommate who cooks me dinner and talks to me and makes me feel like I can do anything. I want to go to bed with you at night and wake up in the morning in your arms. I want to trust you... trust us. I want to believe it's real.
Tara cautiously stepped closer to the redhead, who remained still, eyes watering, lip quivering. The blonde reached out to take one of Willow's hands, which she raised to her own face, pressing the shaking fingers onto her cheek.
"I know you have no reason to believe anything I say, but... can you believe what you feel, Willow? I can't believe I have any tears left, but they just keep coming, knowing how much I've hurt you. Aren't they real?"
Willow closed her eyes and choked back a sob of her own. Tara next guided the hand to her chest.
"Can you feel my heart, Willow? I think it's going to break through my chest it's pounding so hard. It's been like that since I got here... since I saw you... since I realized I may never get to see you again. Isn't that real?"
When Willow opened her eyes, the tears streamed down, but she maintained her gaze with the blonde, who thought she saw a glimmer of hope shining in the green depths. Tara moved her hand away from Willow's, which remained in place against Tara's breastbone. The blonde took another step forward, ever so slowly leaning her head in, eyes locked on Willow's. She lightly pressed their lips together, then retreated just far enough to speak, her breath warm on Willow's mouth.
"Do you feel it, Willow?" she whispered. "Isn't this real?"
"Oh... Tara ... yessss," she hissed, and immediately they were kissing in earnest, hungrily devouring each other as lips, teeth, and tongues met again and again. Caressing hands grew bolder, but when Tara felt Willow's slide down her buttocks and pull at her skirt, she gently pulled away.
"Sweetie... wait. Before we go any farther... I know you have questions... about me... and I want you to ask them now."
"They can wait - not important," Willow hastily replied as she tried to return her lips to Tara's neck.
"Willow," Tara said firmly, taking Willow's hands in her own, "I want nothing more than to make love with you... but it is important. I don't want any doubts hanging over us. I want you to know who you're making love to."