Author: Trom DeGrey
Willow and Tara found Anya pacing in her office. Tara quirked an eyebrow at her outfit. Anya was wearing jeans, grey tennis shoes and a Harvard sweatshirt. Oh my god, she probably went there.
"You need to sit down," Anya said without preamble.
They exchanged a look and sat in the velvet chairs in front of Anya's desk. She went over and leaned back against the front of her desk. "When was the last time you had any contact with your family?" she demanded of Tara.
Tara glanced over at Willow and then shrugged. "I haven't talked to them directly since Donnie decided to run for office seven years ago."
Anya ran a hand through her blonde curls and blew out a shaky breath. "DRM," she said. "Donald and Richard Maclay. Tara, it's your family."
Tara felt all the air rush out of her lungs. She allowed her eyelids to slide shut as the lightheadedness swept over her, but then forced them open again, afraid to pass out in front of anyone. "Shit," she croaked. She took a deep, gasping breath and leaned forward. She slumped toward Willow when she felt her warm hand snake under her braid and begin to massage her neck.
"Just breathe," Willow whispered. She was trying to catch her own breath as she kneaded at the tension in Tara's neck. She looked up at Anya. "How'd you trace it?"
"The way I trace everything." Anya walked around to a small refrigerator behind her desk and pulled out a bottle of water. "Through the money." She handed the bottle to Willow who put it on the back of Tara's neck as Anya continued to explain. "It actually wasn't that hard if you know what you're doing," she said. "The financing is coming from several off-shore accounts including at least one in the Canary Islands. That's where I got my first hit. With one set of numbers, I was able to trace back and crack into other accounts and eventually it went all the way back to two hefty Japanese accounts in the names of Donald Maclay and Richard Maclay." She leaned back against her desk again, eyeing Tara with worry. "Are you okay?" she asked quietly.
Tara took the bottle of water from Willow's hand and sat back. Her breathing was coming in soft sobs and she wiped angrily at the tears that at some point had begun to stream down her face. "No, I am not fucking okay."
Willow curled her hands in toward herself to keep from reaching out again to comfort Tara. She felt helpless. "What can I do?" she whispered.
Tara closed her eyes and leaned her head back. She gritted her teeth. Her instinct was to tell Willow to get lost, but she suppressed it. Willow deserves better. She took a deep cleansing breath, opened her eyes and sat up straight. And so do you. "We've got to find out more about Fin. He's their flunky. He's the one doing their dirty work."
"We need to go back into the warehouses," Willow said.
Tara looked over at her and wagged a finger. "Don't start. I'll do it and then come back to your place."
"I think I can make my own decisions here," Willow said. "The game just changed."
"Breaking and entering didn't suddenly become legal," Tara snapped. "We've had this discussion, Willow. Let me do this one thing without you. I'm trying to protect you, not exclude you."
"I know what you're doing. And I don't think you're trying to exclude me either. I trust you, Tara. I do." Willow let out a weary sigh and slumped back in her seat. "But how about you let me worry about my conscience for once, hm?"
Tara watched Willow for a long moment. There was a soul deep fatigue in her eyes and Tara was aware that some sort of ongoing internal war was what had put it there. Willow had talked about it a little bit last night at dinner, but Tara knew that even Willow wasn't sure what was going on inside her. So, am I dealing with a potential loose cannon here or is she about to have a nervous breakdown on me? I guess there's only one way to find out. God, my risk assessment skills suck. "Come to my house for dinner tonight. We'll figure something out."
Willow nodded and got up when Tara stood on shaky legs. She reached out and took Tara's free hand in her own.
"I'm sorry I had to be the bearer of bad news," Anya said.
Tara gave her a tired smile. "Lucky I don't believe in killing the messenger."
Anya watched them leave without another word, holding hands all the way out the door. She smiled despite her pensive mood. "I knew someone would capture your heart eventually, Tara Maclay."
They settled once again into the muggy interior of the Mustang and Tara started the car, turning the air conditioning on high. They sat in a fatigued silence for a few moments. "Want to make the three hour trip to Sacramento with me?" Tara said with a snort.
Willow smiled and patted the hand she had only released when they had gotten out into the parking lot. "What good would confronting them do us?"
Tara smiled. "I'd feel a hell of a lot better watching Senator Maclay pee himself." She looked over at Willow. "You don't seem terribly surprised. I take it Rupert filled you in on my family."
"He told me what he knew," she said. "There are an awful lot of unanswered questions though."
Tara nodded. "I know," she said. "Let's see what we can find tonight and then I promise I'll answer anything you want to know about my family."
"Deal," Willow said. "Now, get me back to my wheels. I've got some things to take care of."
Willow stewed at her desk. Lt. Giles wasn't back yet and she was still debating whether or not to tell him about their latest development. The thought of Tara's father and brother being at the heart of everything made her stomach churn. They had known after talking to Harris that things were bigger than just their investigation, but the inclusion of the powerful Maclay men in the equation made Willow shiver.
She jumped when Lt. Giles appeared at her side and put his hand on her shoulder. "I need to see you immediately," he whispered and made a bee line for his office, waving off two other detectives in the process.
Willow managed to keep herself from running after him, but only just. She closed the door behind her and sat down. The urgency was thick in the office. "Sir? What's going on?"
Lt. Giles sat down behind his desk and pulled off his glasses. He began cleaning them furiously. "Out of curiosity, I stopped at the coroner's office to see when Xander Harris would be autopsied."
Willow shifted in her seat but said nothing. Jennifer Calendar was the county coroner and it was widely known that Lt. Giles had a thing for Dr. Calendar. At any other time, she might rib him about what he was actually curious about, but Willow had never seen her lieutenant so tense.
"She had already done a preliminary report on him," he continued. He swallowed hard and put his glasses back on. "Willow, it looks as if he was indeed tortured before he was killed. Bones in both hands were broken and both of his knees were broken among other things."
Willow felt the air rush from her lungs. She had disliked Xander Harris. He had lived off the private facts of others' lives, but the thought of him being tortured sickened her. "So, whoever killed him probably knows for sure that Tara and I are involved," she rasped.
Lt. Giles nodded. "That was the conclusion I also drew. I thought you should know."
Willow blew out a deep breath. "Well, sir, what do you think? Do you think I should take my vacation and get a nice sunburn somewhere?"
He ran a hand through his hair. "The thought of you being in danger from people like this distresses me greatly, but you and I both know you wouldn't give up this case even if the threat were more concrete."
Willow made a split-second decision. "Tara and I talked about me taking vacation time and going underground with the investigation. She didn't like the idea all that much, but I think it may have some value."
Lt. Giles nodded again. "It might just, Willow, but you need to realize that entering completely into Tara's world - which I believe is what you would be doing by going underground - may severely press your police and personal ethics. You've seen firsthand that Tara has no problem bending the law when it serves her purposes."
Willow sighed. "She said the same thing." She shifted uncomfortably in her seat again. Just say something. Maybe he can give you some insight. "I'm loathe to admit this, sir, but I don't think it would be nearly as difficult for me as either of you think."
He paused a moment and studied her. Willow willed herself to be still and stare back, but Lt. Giles' face revealed nothing. Finally, he said, "I see. Well, Willow, if you think it's best to go underground with your investigation, I trust your judgment. I'll sign off on the paperwork, but I think you should hang onto Department resources for as long as possible."
Willow scrubbed her hands over her face. Well, no help there. "I can see your point. I just don't know what to do right now, sir. I guess I'll just keep going like I have been and try to play it by ear like everything else thus far. I'll let Tara know about Harris though if that's alright with you?"
"Of course, Willow. Keep me informed and be extra careful."
Willow nodded and left Lt. Giles' office on rubbery legs. She collapsed into her chair and eyed her phone. She considered calling Tara to tell her about Harris, but decided that Tara had had enough of a shock this morning and that she would wait until she saw her later. Willow squeezed the back of her neck. She had been in danger before. She had been in danger on assignments by herself even, but she had always had some sense of her enemy. She had never felt as in the dark as she did now. She looked up at the squad room white board and saw her two cases still in red. There was little she could do until she saw Tara tonight, so she decided to try and squelch her worry with work.
Tara looked up from the stove when she heard Willow pull in. She sighed when she saw Willow get out of her car wearing all black and carrying her black leather jacket and motorcycle helmet. She waved her in when Willow stepped up onto the back porch. "I was hoping you would change your mind," she said as Willow came in through the door.
Willow shook her head and walked past Tara into the dining room where she laid her jacket and helmet on the table. "Sorry to disappoint," she said as she walked back into the room and sat down at the kitchen table. "Dinner smells good." She watched Tara pour a marinara sauce over angel hair pasta.
"It'll be ready in just a second." Tara put the sauce pan in the sink and turned to Willow. "And I'm not disappointed you're going with me tonight. I just don't want you to lose any sleep over anything."
Willow looked at Tara a moment and then barked out a laugh. "Geeze, that wasn't even what I was thinking - that you would be disappointed I wanted to go along. If that isn't my conscience screaming at me, I don't know what is."
"Then stay here," Tara said and turned to pull the garlic bread out of the oven.
"Lt. Giles stopped by the coroner's office." Willow ignored Tara's deep sigh. "Preliminary findings are that Harris was tortured."
Tara dropped the pan of bread on the stove top and slammed the oven door. She turned and slumped in the nearest seat. "Are they sure?" she whispered.
Willow nodded. "Broken hands and knees."
Tara bit down on her bottom lip. The pain helped keep the tears at bay. She hadn't necessarily liked Xander Harris, but they had both grown up on the streets and there had been at least a type of professional courtesy between them. She hated the thought of him being tortured, but she hated the thought of her father and brother being the ones that had ordered it more. "I guess we really have to watch our backs then."
Willow nodded and pushed up from the table. "Where do you keep the plates?" She went to the cabinet Tara pointed to and dished each of them out a plate of spaghetti and a slice of garlic bread. She sat the plate down in front of Tara. "Eat," she whispered. "We can talk about all this later."
Dinner was a silent affair and both women picked more than ate, too lost in their own swirling thoughts to taste the food.
Tara finally sighed and gave up on the pretense of eating. "I got some more bad news myself this afternoon."
Willow looked up from her own pasta twirling. "Oh?"
"We've got another missing kid."
Willow dropped her fork and ran her hands through her hair, pulling it in frustration. "Dammit! Why are we always a step behind?"
Tara shook her head. "I dunno, but I'm hoping tonight changes that at least a little bit." She studied Willow's flushed face for a moment. I have to ask. I can't risk us both. "Look, Willow, I really need to know why you want to do this. My father and brother would be ruthless over next to nothing if it suited them. I suspect there's a lot more at stake here than what we've uncovered or heard about so far. They wouldn't bat an eyelash at killing a cop."
"If they're that ruthless and powerful, do you really think just being able to disappear into this city will protect you?"
Tara fidgeted and blew out a sigh. "Those two won't touch me. We have an arrangement." Willow arched an eyebrow. "They leave me alone, I leave them alone."
"Then why are you still working this case? If we actually catch them at this and bust them, what happens?"
"My case is finding my kid."
Willow nodded. "Ah, now I see. So, we find your kid and you leave the rest of it for me, right?"
Tara rolled her eyes and got up. She took her plate to the sink and dumped her barely touched spaghetti into the garbage disposal. "You still haven't answered my question."
"Maybe I don't have an answer as to why I want to do this. Maybe I just need to."
Tara whirled around. "Bullshit! Enough with the psychological crap! If you're going to have some sort of a nervous breakdown on me or turn into some sort of gun toting loony, I wanna fucking know!"
A shudder rocketed through Willow and she felt something snap inside her. There was no slow boil. No warning. Suddenly she was on her feet and there were tears and rage and sorrow and a thousand other emotions she no longer had the wherewithal to catalog.
"I'm sorry I can't be good old dependable Willow for you! I'm so sick of her! She lives up to everyone's expectations and everyone knows they can count on her! I killed her! Do you hear me, Tara! I killed her! I put on leather and pvc and used whips and got off on it! My girlfriend cheated on me because she said I'd changed and I had! And I liked the new me! But nobody wants that Willow! They want good old dependable Willow and I killed her!"
They stared at one another across the suddenly still kitchen. Willow's breathing was coming in soft sobs and Tara realized she was holding her breath. She raced around the table when she saw Willow begin to crumble.
Willow threw her arms around Tara's waist and clutched at her back as the last of her walls broke. "I killed her, I killed her," she sobbed over and over again.
Tara pulled Willow close and began running her hands through her red locks in a frenzied attempt to comfort her. Tara shushed and rubbed her back and stroked her hair and finally pulled back just enough to brush her lips across Willow's. She tasted tears and pressed their lips together more fully. Willow whimpered and clawed at her back. Tara drew back and brushed her lower lip along Willow's trembling mouth. She pulled Willow to her shoulder and began stroking her hair and back again. "It'll be okay, Willow," she whispered. "It'll be okay."