Author: Trom DeGrey
Willow did a mental happy dance when she walked into the Vice squad room and saw Meers sitting at his desk. She went back to Lt. Giles office and knocked on the door, going in at his call. "Sir, did you get my note?" she asked as she closed the door behind her.
"Yes, I did, Willow. May I ask what has changed?" He shuffled a packet of papers and signed the last one, handing them over to Willow. "I put you in for all four weeks you were eligible for."
Willow took the papers and skimmed through them. "Thank you, sir. And I can't let you know what's changed at the moment, but you'll know very soon. I promise."
Giles nodded. "Very well then. I'll continue to pursue Brett Hawkins. Please just keep me informed as much as possible. Do remember, I may be in some jeopardy as well."
Willow nodded. "I won't forget, sir." She pulled her cell phone from her belt. "Do you mind if I make a call in here, sir?" At his nod, she punched in Tara's number.
"Where are you?"
"Parked about three blocks away."
"I'll be there in just a couple of minutes."
Willow hung up and looked at her lieutenant. "Sir, if you happen to hear an argument out in the squad room, please just stay in here. I know what I'm doing."
Lt. Giles arched an eyebrow. "Very well, Willow. I trust you."
Willow took a deep breath and exited his office. She went back to her own desk and sat down.
"Hot lunch date?"
Willow smirked. She had counted on not being able to escape without at least one comment from Meers. "I sure as hell won't miss you."
Meers put down his pen. "Oh? Headed somewhere?"
"This job has really been getting to me lately." She waved her paperwork. "Giles signed off on some vacation time for me."
He studied her for a moment. "Just like that, huh? Where you going?"
Willow was prepared for the lie this time. "I decided to give Vegas another try, see if it wasn't a little more fun by myself. From there? Who knows?"
Meers nodded. "Well, have a good time." He leered at her. "Why don't you try getting laid, Rosey? Might loosen you up a little."
Willow hated him. She was glad she hadn't worn her Glock in today. She didn't think she could make it look like self-defense in front of a squad room full of other detectives, no matter how they felt about Meers.
She began searching through her desk, checking for anything she thought she might need. Once she left today, she wasn't sure when she might be back. She was removing three extra clips from her gun drawer when two hands slammed down on her desk in front of her.
Tara had indeed changed clothes, now sporting jeans and a black t-shirt that said 'I Did Not Come Here to Lose'. She looked pissed. "What the fuck are you doing?" she hissed just loud enough for a few people around them to hear.
"Do we have to have this discussion now?" Willow looked around, agitated. She bit her lip to keep from grinning when she spotted Meers taking an active interest in them.
"Yes, we have to discuss this now. You can't just leave me high and dry on this," Tara said a little too loudly.
"Would you keep it down?" Willow fidgeted. "In case you forgot, Xander Harris was tortured and murdered. This isn't even a legitimate case for me."
"What kind of fucking cop are you?" Tara's face was flushed with anger.
"A smart one," Willow snapped. "I can't get bad guys off the street if I'm dead."
They stared at one another for a long moment, neither one willing to flinch. Tara finally pushed away from the desk and stalked out. Willow took a deep breath, but didn't look up. She could feel several pairs of eyes on her and knew Meers was among them.
Willow gathered her things and left silently, holding off her grin until she got out of the station house. She climbed into her Jag and headed for home, dialing Tara along the way.
"Where in the hell did you learn to act like that?"
"I thought about wearing my 'Drama Queen' t-shirt, but I was afraid that would give it away."
Willow laughed. "I'm going home long enough to change clothes. There's a back door to my building. Can you pick me up in about twenty minutes?"
"I'll be there."
When Willow got home, she parked in the parking garage and took the elevator up. She knew she was going to have to take things one step further to be safe. So, when she reached her apartment, she went straight to her den and booked a ticket to Las Vegas. She'd drive herself to the airport later tonight and then sneak out. Tara would have to pick her up somewhere.
That task completed, Willow went to her bedroom and scoured her closet. She wanted something comfortable, but the trip to the Social Security office loomed large in her mind, causing her to choose and reject outfit after outfit.
She looked at her watch and sighed. Tara was probably sitting out back right now. She finally settled on jeans and a lightweight grey henley that she left mostly unbuttoned. She shoved the sleeves up and pulled on her black biker boots. Willow looked in the mirror and grinned. It was as butch as she got. She strapped her S&W .38 to her right ankle and ran out, taking the stairs down and slipping out the back door. Tara was waiting.
"I was beginning to worry."
"Sorry." Willow fastened her seatbelt. "I figured I'd better make a trip to the airport later just in case someone is watching me. So, I booked a ticket."
Tara nodded. "Where are you not going?"
"Vegas." Willow sighed. "I told Fitzgerald and Meers that I was going to try it by myself and see if I had more fun this time around."
Tara pulled away from the door. "Did we have a bad Las Vegas experience?"
Willow rolled her eyes. "The ex and I went when we first moved in together. I hated every minute of it."
Tara grinned. "Too much sin for you?"
Willow chuckled. "I don't know. Maybe that was it. Where'd the car come from?" She squirmed in the seat a bit. The silver Pontiac Vibe was comfortable enough, but it certainly wasn't Tara's Mustang.
"Swapped with a friend. I think he got the better end of the deal."
Willow grinned. "Looks that way. Where are we going first?"
"I figured looking through the newspaper archives would take us the longest."
Willow nodded. "Good. I'm not ready to go to the Social Security office yet."
Tara looked over at her. "Is there something I should know about this person that owes you a big favor?"
Willow frowned. "She owns a motorcycle?"
"Ah." Tara sighed. "Then I'm not ready to go over there yet either. I think getting arrested for punching her lights out wouldn't be conducive to our investigation."
Willow looked over at her and grinned. "Do you really want to punch her lights out?"
Tara smirked. "Are you a real redhead?"
Willow settled back into her seat. "You're getting closer and closer to finding out for sure, Ms. Maclay."
The drive to the Herald's offices took slightly longer than on a normal day. Tara was extra cautious that they weren't being followed, doubling back, making sudden turns and watching her rearview mirror almost as much as she watched the road. "I feel like an idiot."
Willow broke off her vigil of her sideview mirror. "I know. I do too. Back door pick-ups, changing vehicles, backtracking and mirror watching - I feel like I'm in the CIA or something."
"Are we being stupid?"
"Probably, but can we take the chance?"
"No, but I guess all this cloak and dagger shit would feel a little more justified if I knew there was more of a direct threat."
"Let's not invite trouble, shall we?"
The Herald kept its offices in a large brick building that seventy-five years ago had been the post office. It afforded them ample space for reporters, sales, all seven editors and their prodigious archives.
Tara pulled around back and pointed out an unmarked door shaded by an elm tree that looked nearly as old as the building. "I know my way around in there, so just look for me at that door."
Willow nodded and watched Tara run around toward the front entrance of the building. Once she was out of sight, Willow began watching all around her again. She did feel ridiculous, but the thought of Xander Harris being tortured for what he knew kept her on the alert.
Several long minutes passed when Willow finally spotted Tara poking her head out the door. Willow took one final look at her surroundings and then bolted from the car, dashing across the street and pushing her way into the building.
Willow stopped short as Tara quietly closed the door behind her. "I don't want to know how you knew there was a door to the outside in the men's bathroom."
Tara shrugged. "It's why it took me so long. There was somebody in here."
Willow grimaced at the urinals. "How about we get out of here before someone else comes in then."
Tara led the way out and back to a computer terminal in the far corner of the archives. The number of shelves seemed endless. The Herald had been in business in one form or another since 1837 and at least one physical copy of every edition ever printed was stored here.
"God," Willow breathed, "why don't they put all this on microfiche or computer or something?"
Tara sat down at the terminal. "They do. I guess they keep all this for sentimentality or for prosperity's sake or something." She smiled. "Sometimes it's pretty cool to handle some of the older ones and see the pictures and stuff though."
Willow sat down next to her. "How do you know about all this down here?"
Tara began typing. "I've been researching my mom's family for a couple of years. We've been in California since we came to America. I found a picture of my great-great-grandfather about six months ago. I'm just going to give the search engine the dates from around the beginning of the campaign to the day after Election Day that year."
Willow just shook her head and added a few more pieces to her ever evolving picture of Tara Maclay. She had started off as annoying and infuriating, and while that hadn't necessarily changed, Willow was seeing a side of Tara that more often than not made her pause. Full of surprises. She grinned at the thought of Tara's last surprise on the balcony. Everything felt surreal to Willow at the moment. Not only their situation, but also whatever it was that was growing between them. She still thought lust was the most appropriate modifier, but since her breakdown things had felt a little different. Perhaps it had been Tara's compassion and soothing care in the hours after, or their frightening experience of almost being caught at the warehouse, or something else entirely. Whatever it was, Willow was just trying to keep her head above the exquisite rush of it all.
"Wow." Tara slumped back in her seat. "304 days to check through."
Willow frowned and leaned over to the keyboard. "Let me see if I can narrow this down some." She gave the search engine a series of key words: campaign, Finn, Maclay, and then added 'photos' as an afterthought and let the engine work again. A much more manageable 47 hits came up.
Tara took over the mouse and began clicking through the different links. A front page photo midway through the list stopped them both cold. Donald Maclay was up on a stage giving a speech from behind a podium, and though he was slightly obscured by Richard Maclay, Riley Finn was obviously standing in the background. Tara flipped open her phone. "Anya? Finn was part of Donnie's campaign. Can you just find out if he's still with them in some capacity? Thanks." She closed her phone and looked at Willow. "Now what?"
Willow didn't care if Tara saw the shudder that wrenched through her. "Now we go to the Social Security office."
Another topsy-turvy drive to the west side of town brought them to the much newer federal building that held, among other things, the Social Security offices on the ground floor. Willow directed Tara to park around back in the employee parking lot. "We won't be here long enough for anyone to notice. What are the odds of you staying in the car?"
Tara grinned. "And miss out on seeing a Rosenberg ex? Zero."
Willow blew out a breath and released her seatbelt. "Let's go."
They made their way around to the north side of the building where three women were standing in the alley smoking. The oldest of the three stamped out her cigarette and turned to Willow. "Hey, sweetie. What are you doing here? It's good to see you."
Willow smiled. Sue Colbert had been a clerk at the office for years and had always wanted to know what sort of exciting cases Willow was working on. "Gotta do something to liven up my dull federal employee life," she had often joked.
"Good to see you too, Sue. Is she here? I need a favor."
Sue rolled her eyes and pulled open the unmarked door. "Yeah, she's here. I miss you, kiddo, but breaking up with her was the smartest thing you ever did." She led them a few steps down a dimly lit hall and then turned. "Wait here. We've got a new director that's loopy about having just anybody back here. She's one of those Homeland Security Nazis the government's been turning out since 9/11."
They watched Sue walk further down the hall and then turn left, pushing through a door and allowing fluorescent light to momentarily fill the hallway. Tara smirked. "Looks like your ex-girlfriend is popular with a lot of people."
Willow sighed. "Kennedy can rub people the wrong way sometimes."
"Kennedy?" Tara was silent for a moment. "Who the hell names their kid after a dead president?" she mumbled.
The hall flooded with light again and a compact young woman with dark hair and eyes and an olive complexion walked toward them. Tara cocked an eyebrow. At least Willow picked a looker. She took a step closer to Willow.
Willow fidgeted as Kennedy walked up to them and Tara practically threw her arm around her and grunted, "Mine." Please don't let this get ugly. She took a deep breath when Kennedy stopped in front of them. "Hi."
Kennedy nodded. "Hi, yourself. What's up?" Her eyes slid to Tara.
"Uh, Kennedy, Tara, Tara, Kennedy." Willow rolled her eyes when they only nodded at one another. Get this over with! "I need something. I need whatever you can get me on Riley Finn, two n's"
Kennedy's gaze moved away from the stony-faced Tara. "Riley Finn, two n's. Sure. Just give me a number where I can reach you. It'll take me a little bit to do it under the radar."
Tara handed her her business card. "You can just call me. We'll be together."
Kennedy took the card and stared at Tara for a long moment. Her eyes hardened, but her expression stayed neutral. "Right," she whispered and turned and walked back up the hall.
Willow and Tara were left standing alone in the hallway. "Well, that was pleasant," Tara said.
Willow rolled her eyes again and went out the side door. "Did you have to be such an ape about it?"
Tara jogged to catch up as they made their way to the car. "What'd I do?"
"Moving into my personal space? Making her call you because we'll be together? You were an ape."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was acting like an ape," Tara snapped as she unlocked the car.
Willow slumped into her seat and yanked the door closed. "You were, trust me."
Tara frowned and closed her own door. "Why's she doing this for you anyway?"
Willow sighed. "Guilt, okay? A lot of guilt. I changed, she cheated. Plenty of guilt to go around."
Tara started the car and turned on the air conditioner. "Why do you feel guilty for changing?"
"I don't. Not like I used to anyway. That's why I felt like I could finally call in a favor with her."
Tara watched Willow for a long moment and finally accepted that the fatigue lining her face really was because of her behavior. "I'm sorry, Willow, I didn't mean to act like an ass. I'm just not used to feeling protective of someone."
Willow grinned. "Do you feel protective of me?"
"Do you really have to ask?"
Willow chuckled. "Okay, so now what?"
Tara put the car in gear. "You need to pack for vacation."