Return to The Price of Vengeance Chapter Nine

The Price of Vengeance

Author: Trom DeGrey
Rating: R to NC-17
Distribution: Ask first please.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters - they're owned by Mutant Enemy and Joss Whedon - and I'm not making any money off of them. I'd be a lot happier if neither of those statements were true.

Tara studied her reflection in her rearview mirror. She undid another button on her sky blue silk shirt and smiled. Just a hint of cleavage. Then she frowned. Willow's mark was visible. She did the button back up and sighed. The bruise was covered, but no cleavage. "Oh, well," she muttered. "It's not like it's a date." Liar.

Tara got out of her Mustang and went inside. She was early and had done so on purpose. Once seated at a table toward the back, Tara laid a white lily on the place setting across from her. She asked for water and looked through the menu with one eye, keeping the other on the entrance. She didn't have long to wait.

A flash of red made her look up and Tara stood to attract Willow's attention. She swallowed at the lump of nervousness in her throat. Willow had changed her hair. Gone was the functional ponytail, replaced by a loose French twist. She had also changed clothes. Instead of the fawn colored suit from earlier today, Willow now had on a long black skirt and a green Mandarin short-sleeved top, shot through with gold and rose dragons. Rather than pinning at the neck, the frog closures were lower on the shirt, revealing a shadow of her breasts. Shit.

Be cool. Don't trip, Willow admonished herself as she began to weave her way back to their table. She had never seen Tara with her hair completely down before and her hands itched to run through the flaxen cascade. As she came nearer, she saw that Tara's silk shirt tucked into black pants with a pinstripe in the same cerulean shade. Holy cow.

"Hi," Tara said when Willow reached the table. She tried not to cringe at her awkward wave.

"Hi yourself," Willow said. She kept her hands wrapped around her purse to keep from waggling her fingers in return.

They stared at one another a moment, nerves charging the air between them. They both finally giggled and Tara gestured toward the chair next to Willow.

They sat and Willow looked at the lily laying in front of her. "What's this?"

"Peace offering?" Tara said, looking pensive from behind her menu.

Willow looked up and grinned. "You didn't have to do that," she said. She laid her purse and the lily to the side and picked up her own menu. "But thank you."

"I was feeling more guilty than usual this afternoon," Tara admitted. "I went to see Anya and that picture she took was framed on her desk."

Willow grinned wryly. "Why am I not surprised she did that? I bet Anya really knows how to press people's buttons. You don't get to be a Head Mistress without learning a thing or two about how people work."

Tara put down her menu. "Did you learn a thing or two about how people work?" She shivered slightly at her boldness. She had meant to flirt, to tease Willow a bit, but her light tone did nothing to hide the seriousness and genuine curiosity in her question.

Willow slowly lowered her menu and avoided Tara's eyes for a moment. She was caught off guard by the subject and unsure how to answer. What had she learned? She considered and rejected several responses before finally relenting and giving Tara her most honest reply. "I think I learned more about me than anything else." She swallowed at the bile in her throat and waited for Tara's next question.

Tara opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Willow's eyes held a vulnerability that shook Tara. How hard was it for her to go into that club with me? The question sat like lead in Tara's gut. She closed her mouth and instead took the photograph sitting on the seat next to her and handed it to Willow face down.

Willow reached across tentatively and took the picture. She flipped it over and stared at the two of them decked out in full S&M gear. Shock, fear, loathing, desire… Her emotions ran the table and Willow did her best to control them, to keep them from being obvious on her face. She had seen herself dressed for a club countless times, but the photo was different. It was unguarded. Willow could almost feel the rage pouring from her image. And she knew the rage was hers and hers alone. She took a deep breath and turned the picture over, tucking it underneath her purse. "Do you have any idea how pissed I was at you that night?"

Tara shifted uncomfortably. "Actually, yeah, I think I have a pretty good idea."

Willow studied Tara until Tara broke eye contact and began picking at the tablecloth in front of her. "Stop it," Willow whispered.

Tara looked up. "Stop what?"

Willow waved her hand. "Whatever it is you're doing. Whatever it is you're thinking." She sighed. "If I had been in your position, I probably would have found a way to test me too."

Tara shook her head. "It's not the testing I feel bad about." She leaned forward and grinned. "I have absolutely no problem making you feel uncomfortable." She relaxed a bit when Willow smiled. "But I don't like the thought of causing you any pain. Willow, I'm starting to understand that going into that club with me may have cost you something."

Willow took a deep breath and rolled her head to release some of the tension in her neck. "I don't know that it's caused me pain necessarily, but I am having some trouble with things," she admitted.

Tara tucked her hair behind her ears and wiggled them at Willow. "They're big. They work well if you want to talk about it."

Willow smiled again and resisted the urge to reach across the table and run a finger over one of Tara's pale, unadorned lobes. "The department shrink keeps trying to get me to come back in too." She shrugged. "I'm not sure what to say because I'm not really sure what's happening. It just feels like there's this sort of edge that's been pressing against me since I went undercover. I was able to ignore it for a while after I went back to my life, but there's something about this case that's causing it to all flare back up again. I'm not sure."

Tara frowned. "I'm sorry, Willow. I wish there was something more I could say or do. I can see the stress in your face sometimes. I hate thinking I caused it."

Willow shook her head. "You didn't. Like I said, don't. I don't like this sitting between us. The problem is mine. I'll handle it. We need to clear the air between us completely if we're going to break open this case."

Tara sat back and her frown deepened. "You don't have to handle everything by yourself, Willow."

Willow chuckled. "Look who's giving me advice on teamwork."

Tara blushed and sat forward again. "Okay, okay, I deserved that. You have to admit though, I'm getting better."

Willow barked out a laugh. "Yeah, breaking into that warehouse was very team oriented of you."

Tara rolled her eyes. "I came back and got you didn't I?"

Willow smiled and shook her head. "What am I going to do with you?" A wolfish grin spread across Tara's face and Willow started laughing. "Don't answer that!"

Tara laughed. "Well, since you don't want my list of possibilities, how do you propose we clear the air completely between us?"

Willow shrugged. "I kind of think we just did, didn't we? I admitted I'm struggling with some personal stuff and you already know we have to keep working at our trust issues. What else is there?"

Tara smiled. "How about everything?"

Willow blew out an impatient breath. "Like what?" Tara raised an eyebrow and Willow slumped in her seat. "You just want me to admit to it, don't you."

"I will if you will," Tara purred.

"Fine, you first," Willow pressed.

Tara tilted her head back and laughed. "Okay, okay," she said. "I think our chemistry is undeniable." She put her elbow on the table and put her chin in her hand. "And all you'd have to do is crook a finger to get me into that huge bed of yours."

Willow could feel the heat flaming across her face and looked away from Tara's smoldering blue eyes. She cleared her throat and fidgeted. She looked up at Tara through her lashes when Tara sat back and began to laugh again.

"Was that not the confession you had in mind?" Tara asked.

Willow sighed. "Um, no, I think that was the one."

Tara laughed again. "Well?"

"What you said." Willow picked up her menu and hid.

Tara covered her mouth to muffle her laughter. "Oh, big brave police officer. So glad you're out there protecting me from the mean streets."

Willow peeked around her menu and stuck out her tongue causing Tara to laugh harder.

They looked up when the waiter arrived at their table, bringing a glass of water for Willow with him. They each ordered. Portabella stuffed ravioli in a cheese sauce for Tara, the house special lasagna for Willow and a red wine that Willow chose.

Tara grinned after their waiter left.. "Well, now that we've had confessional, how about we discuss a less embarrassing topic? Anya is checking out DRM for me. The trade for Fin's ledger was more than good enough."

Willow ran a finger along the condensation on her water glass. "How is Anya? Did you tell her to watch her step?"

Tara nodded. "Yeah," she said. "And she's happier than usual. Some S&M group from Europe was coming in later in the afternoon. She said they paid her a bunch of money to give them a before hours tour of the place and then they were going to spend their evening in the club too."

"Was she dressed?" Willow asked. She had heard of groups like that before and most Head Masters and Mistresses liked to give the tours dressed to the hilt.

"Yeah," Tara said. She chewed at her bottom lip. She wanted to ask. It had been a bit of joke when she'd thought of it in Anya's office, but the more she thought about what Anya had said about the Scarlet Witch, the more Tara wanted to know.

Willow arched an eyebrow. "What?"

Tara shrugged and looked down. She began picking at the table cloth again.

Willow leaned forward with a grin. "What was it?"

Tara kept her head down. "Black rubber cop uniform," she mumbled. She reached for her water.

Willow chuckled and began tracing patterns on her water glass again. "Hmm, mine's white," she said in a tone so casual she could have been commenting on the weather.

Tara choked.

Willow looked up again. "Are you okay?" she asked as Tara patted at the water on her shirt and the table with her linen napkin.

"Yeah," Tara croaked. "Fine. Just fine." She shivered at the thought of Willow in a white rubber cop outfit. It was out of her mouth before she could stop it. "So, is there a green rubber outfit?"

Willow took a sip of her water and then smiled. "Does camouflage count?"

Tara slumped back in her seat. "You've got to be kidding."

Willow chuckled and leaned her forearms on the table. "Nope, the Department paid for everything, so I went all out. There's a beret with it and everything." She laughed when Tara's jaw dropped. "I hated full outfits like that though," she admitted. "You have to use lots of powder to get into them anyway and then you have to take all this time to get any residual powder off of them and shine them up. It was just too much work."

Tara frowned and leaned forward, mirroring Willow. "How were you able to shine the back of it?"

Willow suddenly looked uncomfortable. "I had to have help," she said and took up a study of her hands on the table.

Tara tilted her head, watching the color slowly creep into Willow's cheeks. "Did your helper own a motorcycle?"

Willow looked up at her for a moment before going back to her hands. She nodded.

"I take it it didn't end well," Tara said quietly.

Willow took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. She looked back at Tara with a wry smile. "Let me put it to you this way," she said. "That huge bed you're so fond of? It's new."

Tara sighed. She'd broken up with a few women in her time, but she'd never cheated. It made her stomach clench to think about anyone hurting Willow like that. "Well, I'm supposed to pass along to you from Anya that there's lots of money to be made if you want to do a little moonlighting in her club." Tara flashed her crooked grin. "And I'll even volunteer for outfit shining duty."

Willow laughed and felt herself blushing yet again. "I'll keep that in mind."

As much as she enjoyed seeing Willow turn red, Tara felt she'd embarrassed her enough for one night, so she changed the subject. "While Anya was checking on DRM for me, I hit my usual sources," she said. "The warehouses aren't the only place they do business in the city. It's just the busiest because it's closest to the docks. I get pretty much the same thing from everyone though. There's lots of money being spread around and it's all coming from someone higher up than this Fin." She shrugged. "Seems like Harris is one of the few people that have seen him though. I got ten different descriptions of him and none of them matched the Weasel's. I'm beginning to wonder if Fin isn't just a name DRM is using. Who knows who any of them really saw, including Harris."

Willow nodded. "That's something I never considered," she said. "It's certainly creating enough confusion." She sighed. "Unfortunately, I didn't have as much luck as you did. You can thank bureaucracy for that though. I had to do some more work on my drive-by shooting from this morning, so Lt. Giles had to request the info for me again. Nothing had come in by the end of the day, which I thought was a little odd since we got those manifests in a few hours, but I'll jump on the computer tonight and see what I can Google."

Tara nodded. "How's that drive-by investigation going?"

Willow shrugged. "I at least got paired with one of the few Homicide detectives I like."

"Oh?" Tara asked. "What's wrong with Homicide?"

"You mean other than the fact they're all self-righteous jerks?" Willow said. She shrugged. "The attitude is always that that's top squad. A bunch of them like to give me a hard time because I've turned down two offers to transfer."

"Why didn't you want to go?"

"I like Vice better."

Tara decided not to press when Willow didn't elaborate. "Well, do you want me to wait until your information comes in before I visit the other warehouse?"

Willow smiled. "Tara, I'm not an idiot. I know you're going to go when you damn well want."

Tara frowned. "No, Willow, I broke your trust once, twice really. I won't do that again. We're in this together."

Willow tilted her head and regarded the woman across from her. She realized it was probably killing Tara not to go off doing exactly as she pleased. "I trust you."

Tara was a bit startled by Willow's simple statement and only nodded in reply. She felt a little giddy inside though. I guess we really are clearing the air.

"Why don't you put it off a night?" Willow suggested. "I should have something by tomorrow and I'll have had a decent night's sleep too."

"Willow," Tara warned, "I thought we discussed this. You are not going in there with me."

Willow put her hands up. "No arguments from me," she said. "I could drive the getaway car though."

Tara frowned. "The bike is less conspicuous," she said. "I don't think there are too many $90,000 Jags hanging out in alleys in that neighborhood at that hour."

Willow sighed. "Tara, I would really feel better if I could be there in case something does happen."

Tara shook her head. "Wouldn't that make you an accessory or something? I told you I broke into one of them, but you don't have any proof and I don't have any qualms about lying. You could arrest me, but it wouldn't stick. If you see me break in… Willow, I know you. You would feel an obligation to do the right thing." Tara sighed. "Look, I know you don't want to be protected, but I wish you would let me just this once. It keeps us both out of trouble with our consciences and the law."

Willow frowned. She wanted Tara to be right. She wanted to think that she would feel an obligation to do something if she saw Tara break the law, but she wasn't sure anymore. She kept her doubts to herself though. "Fine," she said, "you win."

"Thank you," Tara said.

They both sat back when dinner arrived, and the conversation turned to more casual, impersonal topics. Feels like a first date, Willow thought. She tried to shake the thought from her mind. Attracted? Yes. Relationship material? N-O, no.

A similar line was flashing through Tara's head. I wonder if it's dangerous for me to want someone I'm working with this badly. God, Tara, get your mind out of the gutter! There is absolutely no relationship potential here! Can you say, 'different worlds'? I knew you could.

Their dinner together was pleasant, they each laughed often, and it was over entirely too soon for both of them. They walked out of Misha's into the warm night together. Tara looked up at the sky, the stars covered by the constant blanket of smog that engulfed the city. "Do you ever want to leave here, Willow?" she asked. "Just go somewhere where you can actually see the stars?"

Willow looked up into the grey night sky. "Sometimes," she admitted. She looked over at Tara who's face was still upturned. She traced Tara's jaw and down her neck with her eyes and felt her mouth go dry. "Maybe we can do that sometime," she whispered.

Tara turned to look at her. "I think I'd like that, Willow," she whispered back.

They watched one another for a moment and Willow realized she was hoping Tara would lean in to kiss her goodnight. She shook herself. "I'll call you tomorrow as soon as I find out anything," she rasped.

Tara only nodded and watched Willow climb into her Jag and drive off. She took a deep breath and smiled. "I think I'd like that a lot."

Continue to The Price of Vengeance Chapter Eleven

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