Willow sat on the sofa with her finger jammed on FF, trying mightily to keep her eyes open. Three hours spent staring at an empty hallway had done little to allay her fears or improve her mood. She left the tape playing and made a beeline for the bathroom, the two mochas she'd consumed suddenly insistent upon a quick exit from her bladder. As she made her way back down the stairs, she caught a brief flicker of black on the TV screen.
The redhead perched nervously on the edge of the couch and switched from FF to REW. Again the black clad figure appeared, looking almost comical as she moved backward at high speed. Once the party in question had moved offscreen, Willow hit pause, then swallowing audibly, pressed play. A moment later, Tara came around the corner from the elevator lobby. Just keep walking, baby... don't stop... please... don't go in... OH TARA! The blonde paused outside the open door, saying something that Willow couldn't make out, looked around as if to see if anyone was watching and stepped inside.
The redhead shut off the VCR and sat dejectedly with her head in her hands. This cannot be happening... my baby just can't be a killer... not my Tara... there has to be a logical explanation for this... oh man, what the fuck do I do now?
Pulling herself together, Willow switched on her PowerBook and set about hacking the firewall on the state police database. OK... so maybe this is just a tad illegal... but if I'm gonna prove my sweetie's innocent, I have to get there before anyone else does... and no one can know I'm looking... can't leave any tracks... nope... this won't be hard at all... easy as really difficult pie... oh well, at least all those lonely nights I spent playing on my computer as a geeky teen are finally paying off.
After several hours of work, she'd found plenty of info on Tara's past, but not a single bit of it made her feel any better. Defeatedly, she logged off and closed her laptop, casting a cursory glance at the clock. 4am! Shit! I have to be at work in five hours... I better get to bed... not that I'll be able to sleep, mind you.
After four hours of fitful near slumber, the alarm went off, cutting through Willow's head like a dull axe. Oh man, I am never going to make it through this day. Without getting out of bed, she picked up the phone and stabbed out the number for the station.
"Sunnydale PD, how may I direct your call?"
"Hi Anya... it's Willow."
"Hey Willow... you sound terrible."
"Thanks a lot, Anya... I didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night."
"Were you up all night giving Tara orgasms?"
"Sadly, no... I think maybe I'm not quite as over that flu as I thought I was."
"Oh, that sucks... were you up all night barfing?"
"I'd really rather not discuss the details, if you don't mind."
"You're crabby... I don't like you when you're crabby."
"Really, I'm crushed."
"Sorry... I'm snippy gal... I just feel like hell... do me a favor and tell the captain I'll be working from home today, OK?"
"Sure... you get better, Willow... you need to be healthy so that luscious new girlfriend of yours can give you lots of orgasms."
"Do you ever think about anything but sex?"
"What else is there?"
Willow sighed, shaking her head, "I need to go, Anya..."
"Oh... do you have to barf again?"
"Bye, Anya." The redhead hung up the phone and pulled a pillow over her face, groaning miserably.
When Willow woke up several hours later, the sky was gunmetal grey and the rain was coming down in sheets. Sunnydale my ass. After a quick shower and a late breakfast of water, Saltines and Rolaids, she dialed Tara's number.
"Hi, lover... how's work?"
"No work today... I called in sick."
"Are you OK, sweetie? Do you want me to bring you some chicken soup?"
"I'll take a pass on that, thanks... my tummy's feeling kinda oogy... but a good dose of Tara time might do wonders, I'm thinking."
"You want me to come over? Are you sure you're not contagious?"
"Naaaaa... I think it's just an unholy combination of exhaustion and stress... it's been a helluva week."
"Aw, poor baby... you just need a little TLC... don't you worry, Tara's gonna come over and make with the nurturing."
"How soon can you get here?"
"I'm on my way."
"Great... see you in a bit... thanks, Tara."
"No thanks necessary... this is what girlfriends are supposed to do."
Hmmmm, I don't think my last girlfriend got that memo. "I love you, Tara."
"Love you too darlin'... now hang up so I can be on my way."
"Yes, ma'am," Willow chuckled feebly.
"There's a good girl... see you soon."
The redhead hung up and ran to the bathroom, her nervous stomach rumbling ominously. Well, I guess this is what I get for calling in sick when I'm not... at least now it's not a lie... that's something new and different... hey, I didn't lie to Tara... no, but you didn't say anything either... that's just the same... God, I hate this!
She opened the medicine cabinet and grabbed the big plastic bottle, chugging down a good portion of its revoltingly chalky contents. "Blech!" she spat into the sink, "You'd think after all these years and all the advances in technology, they'd have found a way to make this crap taste better."
The doorbell rang, making her jump a foot. She pulled a comb through her sweaty hair and bolted down the stairs to answer it. As soon as Tara was over the threshold, she took her in her arms, holding her ever so tight, wishing that she'd never have to let go.
"Wow... if this is the reception I get after only one night apart, I may just have to go on vacation," she teased, giving Willow a quick kiss, "Mmmm... Kaopectate."
"It's OK, darlin'... now I want you to lie down on the couch... I'm going to make you some chamomile tea... that'll fix your tummy right up."
"Uh uh uh... no arguments from you... now lie down and be a good patient."
"Whatever you say, Nurse Ratched."
"Ooooh... you are so gonna pay for that when you're feeling better."
Willow stretched out on the sofa, taking a few deep breaths to try and calm her jangling nerves. She couldn't think of anything harder than what she was about to do or anything she'd ever wanted to do less. Tara came in a moment later with two steaming mugs in her hands and sat down beside her.
"Ooooh... do I smell coffee?"
"Uh-uh... not for you," she placed the cup in Willow's hands, "Now sip that... slowly."
"Yes, sweetie? Do you want a pillow? A blankie maybe?" she asked, getting up.
"Please, baby... sit down."
"Is everything OK, lover?"
"We need to talk..."
"Oh God... we need to talk... the four ugliest words in the english language."
"Please, Tara... let me say this... it's hard enough as it is... just listen, OK? If you have anything to say you can tell me when I'm done, alright?"
"Willow... baby... what's wrong?"
"There's no easy way to say this..."
Tara lowered her eyes, closing herself off just as visibly as if she'd drawn curtains across her face, "Just say it..."
"First off, I want you to know that everything I've ever said to you is the absolute truth... I love you more than I've ever loved anyone in my life... I can't imagine my future without you in it now..."
"I sense a but coming..."
"Please, baby... I need you to tell me that you understand... you do know how much I love you, right?"
"I do... about half as much as I love you," Willow shot her a look, "OK, so maybe it's a tie."
"You know I'd never intentionally do anything to hurt you, baby."
"And you know I feel exactly the same way." Willow smiled at her lovingly, despite the angst of the situation. "So, tell me about your but..."
"If anyone's an authority on that subject, it's you baby," the redhead teased.
"Just trying to ease the tension a little, sorry."
"I know you're trying to work up to something, honey... and it's obvious it's not from the hugs and puppies category... but you're killing me here... I've never been a big fan of suspense... so come on... out with it."
"It's not fair... the way you can read me."
"That pesky soulmate thing again."
"I don't know how to say this, Tara."
"Just tell me, Will... no matter how bad it is, we'll get through it together... unless..."
"If you're breaking up with me, just tell me flat out... I don't think I can deal with an explanation."
"Oh, Tara!" She took the blonde into her arms. "Baby... no... no... don't even think that... the only way I'd ever leave you is if you asked me to... although, after you hear what I have to say..."
Tara held her redhead closer, "Just tell me, Willow... as long as we're together, I can handle anything."
"Well, maybe the easiest way to start is to show you..." She pressed the button on the remote and Tara watched herself walk down the hall and into the apartment.
"Damn, Willow... you scared the shit out of me... do you people in Sunnydale always get this tweaked out over a little trespassing? It's not like I was breaking and entering... the door was open and I really had to pee after being stuck in that elevator for so long..."
"Tara... we both know there's more to it than that... I know you better than to even think that you might be the killer... but I know that you're mixed up in this somehow... maybe you know who the killer is... maybe you don't... but one thing I do know is that you haven't been on the road for five years just because of your music."
Tara stared at her lover blankly, struck utterly speechless.
"I did a bit of research last night... OK, not a bit... I was on the computer for five hours, anyway... I know about Annie, baby... I know you're wanted for questioning in connection with her death... and I know that you've been missing since that night."
"Willow... I-I-I..." Tara stammered, tears in her eyes. "I know you didn't kill her, sweetie... I've seen the look in your eyes when you talk about Annie... I know how much you loved her... how much you still love her... also, I couldn't help noticing certain odd similarities between her file and a certain other case... it was the smiler, wasn't it? You found her and you fixed things so it wouldn't be so obvious, didn't you?"
"I couldn't save her... the least I could do was give her some dignity," she whispered through sobs, "I couldn't let them turn her into some tabloid headline... I owed her that much."
"I'm so sorry, baby," she held her close, stroking her hair, "Do you know who's doing this, Tara?"
"I said, do you know who's doing this?"
"It's not a who... it's a what... a succubus... Helianngggtherxygxtxqzyxyzzggcz."
"It's ancient Babylonian... I just call her Heather."
"OK then," suddenly Willow had forgotten everything she'd planned on saying.
"I've been hunting this thing for five years, Will... I have to get her before she strikes again... I doubt it escaped your notice that the last victim was a redhead... she knows I'm here and obviously she knows about you... she's taunting me."
"Tara... baby... I understand your desire for vengeance... if anyone hurt you, I'd probably torture them to death... sew their mouth shut with a dull needle or something... but you should let the police handle this."
"Will... you don't understand... the police are in way over their heads here... you can't kill this thing with guns... you can't hold it in a prison cell... the only thing that can kill it is magic... I'm the one, baby... it has to be me."
"So... you're what then... some kind of cosmic bounty hunter?"
"I suppose you could put it that way... but at the risk of sounding like some cheezy movie trailer... this time it's personal." Willow laughed. "I've gotta take this thing down, baby... right now that's the only thing that matters." The redhead frowned, "Except for you, of course."
"I don't want to lose you, sweetie... frankly, after what you've told me... if I thought turning you in would keep you safe, I'd do it... but don't worry, I'm not going to... we wouldn't be having this conversation if I was... but I really don't know how much longer I can protect you... no one else has seen this tape... but they have footage of you in the lobby... and they found your guitar pick at the scene... right now, they have no idea who you are... I even lied to Xander when he thought he recognized you... but sooner or later someone is going to ask the same questions that I did... and then they'll be coming for you... there's nothing I can do about that."
"I know, baby... anyway, I'm a big girl... I've been taking care of myself for quite a while now."
"I plan on handing in my resignation tomorrow... as soon as they find out you're my lover, they'll have my badge anyway... and I am really not in the mood for an IAD investigation... that's why I'm telling you all this... if you need to run, I won't stop you... I'll even go with you if you want."
"Yes, my love?"
"You're wonderful... I love you with all my heart... but I can't let you do that... I've been a fugitive for too long... I can't ask you to take that on... I won't let you throw away your career... I don't want that on my head."
"I don't give a damn about my stupid career, Tara... all that matters now is you... OK, that came out a little more stalkery than it sounded in my head... what I meant was if I can't be with you, then the rest of it would feel pretty meaningless."
"I know exactly how you feel Will, but..."
"But nothing, Tara... I'm serious... you can't stay here... don't you read the papers? I know you didn't do anything... but innocent people go to jail all the time around here... they'll paint you as some kind of wacko cultist because you're a witch... all it'll take is a little circumstantial evidence... which they already have by the way... a good prosecutor and a gullible jury... then all the kissing you and I will be doing will be through glass."
"Willow... darling... do you really think I don't know that? Hello! Professional fugitive here! I've managed to stay out of jail so far... and I can't afford to be caught now... no offense to present company intended, but... it's going to take more than a mickey mouse little PD like Sunnydale's to put me behind bars... this has gone far enough... it ends here... I refuse to let this abomination kill any more innocent women... no way... no more redheads for her... especially not mine," she kissed Willow softly.
"What are you... um, strike that... what are we going to do?"
"As soon as I figure that out, I'll let you know."
"You're gonna give me an ulcer, woman."
"Willow... sweetie... relax..."
"You're kidding, right?"
"You said no one knows who I am yet, right? So we're safe now, aren't we?"
"Yeah, well... for now... but..."
"No buts... unless someone is going to kick that door down in two seconds... which doesn't seem all that likely... I want some snuggles... I'll even let you cuff me if it'll make you feel better."
Willow sighed in assignation and snuggled closer into her lover, "I'm going to have to call my broker and see if they trade Kaopectate over the counter."
Tara chuckled softly, kissing her redhead's hair, "I love you... you big goof."
In the end, Willow did not, in fact, cuff Tara... but they made long, slow, tender love that night. It was really more about trust and spiritual connection than sexuality and pleasure... although it was most certainly pleasurable... and then some. When they were both too exhausted to go on any longer, the lovers drifted into a peaceful slumber, safe in each others arms.
When Willow woke up, Tara was gone. After a full search of the house, she sat on the bed with her lover's pillow pressed to her face. She inhaled her fading scent, crying and praying to every deity that came to mind, that her lover wasn't gone for good. Then her cell phone rang. She jumped off the bed like a cat, to grab it and when she opened it, there was a message from Tara.
There's something I have to do and you can't be any part of it... I'm sorry Baby... Please know that I love you with all my heart
Willow tried to respond, but Tara had already hung up. She dialed the number over and over, but the only response she ever got was a prerecorded message. The customer you are trying to reach is currently unavailable.
"Shit! Shit and double shit!"