DISCLAIMER: This belongs to Joss Whedon. Iím just borrowing.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Season 6 - Smashed/Wrecked

Hide and Seek
By diamondforever

 

Chapter Six

"Thank you for your time, Miss Maclay." The officer rose from the couch and shook her hand. "Are you sure there's nothing further that we could do for you?"

Tara shook her head. "I think we'll be okay." She showed him to the door. "Oh," she added as he turned to leave, "if-if I could ask, what will you be putting on the report?"

"Psychopath and self-defense, ma'am." He indicated that he wasn't allowed to say more and tipped his hat courteously before closing the door.

Tara sighed. All police departments were the same. They always turned a blind eye to the supernatural if they could. The officers had been disgusted by the Bringer. The cop who had questioned her was the new guy, only staying behind because he'd been ordered to. They would close the case as quickly as possible, and file it away in the section that nobody ever talked about. It had happened in Sunnydale, and it was happening here.

She turned to the washroom, where Kennedy was showering. She had been in there for a long time now, and Tara had half a mind to go in and make sure that she was all right. But she knew that right now, Kennedy needed to be alone, needed time to reconcile to herself all that had happened in such a short period of time. In the meantime, Tara felt only a fleeting sense of grief for her friend's death; she was instead coldly driven by the knowledge that they were completely unprotected in this wayside town, and that their first priority now was to get to safety.

It was with this in mind that she picked up the phone and dialed a number she had sworn never to enter again. It rang two times before somebody picked up on the other end. "Hello?"

Tara nearly dropped the phone when she heard Willow's voice. She had fantasized about this moment, of the pleasure of hearing the distinctive lilt and rhythm that was as natural to the redhead as breathing. It was a harder voice now, having lost the eagerness of an optimist. Instead, it was weighed down with persistent worry, making her sound older than she was.

"Hello?" She was already growing impatient, irritated. Tara had forgotten to answer.

"Willow," she said hesitantly, "it's…it's Tara."

Her tone softened just a touch. "Tara?" she said with surprise. "Tara. Hey."

"Something really bad has happened where I am. A –"

"Are you hurt?" Willow interrupted her before she could finish, her fear that Tara was in trouble throwing all semblance of professionalism out the window.

"I'm fine," Tara answered evenly. "But we were attacked. Whatever it was had scars all over its face, and no tongue. I think it was a –"

"A Bringer," Willow finished. "Do you have a Potential with you?"

"Yeah. It killed her Watcher." She paused, not quite knowing how to explain the next part. "But…he came back. Not him – but a likeness of him – and he talked to us. Whatever it was that came back though, I know it was evil."

Willow sighed audibly. "Listen, you need to come to Sunnydale. It-it'll be safer here. We're gathering all of the Potentials in one spot so that Buffy can protect them. They're all being targeted."

"By what?" asked Tara.

"I don't think I can explain it over the phone. You just need to get here as quickly as you can. The Bringers, they'll keep coming for you wherever you are, and you'll be safest here."

Tara was convinced enough to obey without question. "O-okay. We'll be there soon."

She didn't know what to say in the ensuing silence. She wanted to ask Willow about things that were much more personal, but she didn't know if she had the right to. It ended up that she didn't have to act, though, as Willow broke the silence first.

"Tara?"

"Yeah?"

"It's really good to hear from you." For a second, Tara thought she could detect just a glimmer of hope in her voice.

But what did it mean? How should she respond? She knew that there was a very real chance that Willow still wanted to be with her. If she gave Willow any hope, it would only cause her to believe that she might have something that she could not. It wasn't that Tara didn't want to be with her – it was just that she couldn't. Not now, at least.

"You too."

Another silence settled over the conversation, and this time neither of them had anything to say. "So…we'll see you in a few days then?" said Willow.

"Yeah."

"Alright then," Willow conceded. "I won't keep you."

"Bye."

"Bye."

Tara hung up the phone. She let out the conscious breath that she had been holding in ever since Willow had first spoken. Her heart had beat faster, both in excitement and fear. She had not heard her voice for months, and she had missed it more than she had known. But whatever she felt, she could not act upon it. She was with Kennedy now.

As if knowing Tara's thoughts, the bathroom door opened, and Kennedy stepped out in a bathrobe. She was distracted, her hands in the middle of drying her hair with a towel. When she saw Tara standing dazed by the phone, she went over and hugged her tightly.

Tara shook her head. "What was that for?"

Kennedy shrugged. "I don't know. I just wanted to do it." She ventured a smile that did not reach her eyes. "Anyways, it's your turn," she said, nodding towards the shower. "I found some clothes and left them in there for you. I hope they fit."

They both laughed, or at least attempted to. Neither commented on the phoniness of the result. Tara cupped Kennedy's cheek briefly, and kissed her softly. "Can you book two tickets from JFK to LAX while I'm in there?"

There was a brief silence as the real meaning of her words sunk in. "…we're going to Sunnydale then?"

"Yeah."

Kennedy didn't answer immediately. Even though she tried to and nearly succeeded in hiding it, Tara saw a flash of hesitancy move across her face for just a moment. And it said one thing – Willow.

"I love you, Ken," she said slowly. "You know that, right?"

"I know." Kennedy smiled again, and this time she could not conceal the insincerity. "Go shower then. I'll handle things out here."

Tara nodded and headed towards the bathroom, gently placing her hand on Kennedy's shoulder as she walked past.

The clothes that Kennedy had chosen for Tara were clearly the loosest that she owned, but they were still uncomfortably tight compared to what she was used to. She hung her head, slightly embarrassed, as she came through the door. Kennedy had been busy sorting through the weapons chest for the ones they would be bringing with them to Sunnydale. She looked up and half-guffawed when she saw her girlfriend standing defeated in the doorway.

Tara frowned at her half-heartedly, occupied with clinging to the brevity of the moment. "We'll need to stop by my place, then."

Kennedy nodded, seeming relieved that she had escaped any further scolding, and continued to look through the chest. She had left David's vast amount of literature untouched, admitting Tara's greater expertise in the area. There may have been another reason, much more poignant, but she felt that neither of them was ready to face up to it.

They were ready to go within minutes. The place was sparse at best, and Kennedy had realized that none of the weapons would have made it onto the plane anyways. David had never allowed more than was necessary for their survival in the town, not having expected the job to drag on for such a large amount of time. And it had turned out even worse than he could have imagined.

Tara went and got David's car, an old red Honda Accord, from the rented garage where he had kept it. The engine sputtered to life on the third try, shaking off months of sitting dormant in a town that took half an hour to walk through from one end to the other. She stopped to pick up Kennedy and the luggage before driving over to her own flat.

It took her even less time to get her things together. Only stopping to change into more comfortable clothing, she took all of ten minutes to throw her suitcase of clothes and books into the trunk.

Kennedy had booked two tickets for early next morning at JFK. With nothing left to do, they bade farewell to Simpson City, turning their eyes towards the metropolis of New York City.

It was a quiet ride, both women immersed in their own dark thoughts. Things had moved so quickly, so suddenly, that neither had had time to react properly. In less than twenty-four hours, their way of life had been turned upside down. They had lost a friend and a mentor, a surrogate father, and on the worst of terms. But Tara knew that it was something else, more disastrous than the loss of her Watcher that clouded Kennedy's thoughts tonight.

Willow. She was full of worry, and even fear about Willow. She knew what Willow meant to Tara, knew the effect that merely her voice had had on her earlier this evening. She was afraid that Tara would leave her, that out of sight had meant, to some degree, out of mind.

And worst of all, Kennedy was absolutely right about it all. She feared the same things as Tara, if only for a different reason. Tara loved Kennedy. She would never do anything to hurt her. But she loved Willow, and although she would do nothing to deliberately rekindle their relationship, she could not know that she wouldn't.

Either way, she was with Kennedy now, not Willow. She was Kennedy's girlfriend, and that meant that she was committed to loving her and only her. If anything were to get in the way of that, she would tell her everything – always everything.

"I won't go back to her, you know," she said quietly.

Kennedy didn't answer, continuing to look out at the road before them.

"This is for the best, Ken," Tara continued, pleading for a trust that she herself could not muster. "There are more of them in Sunnydale. We'll be safer there. There's strength in numbers."

"I know." Kennedy's voice cut suddenly through the silence. "But you can't know that you won't."

"Ken, I can –"

"I'm not angry," she cut in again, not allowing Tara's protests to stop her. "You're right. This is for the best. I know that. But I'm afraid." She sighed. "I know you love me, and I trust you. I know that you would never do anything to hurt me, but you still have feelings for her. It's nothing something that can be helped. I understand that."

"But how do I know," Kennedy asked, her voice heavy with emotion, "how do you know what will happen once we're there? Things will change when she's right in front of you. You'll feel things for her again. I know you'll try to fight it. I know you'll be as loyal to me as you can. But if you're put in a compromising position, I can't know that you would resist. I just…I just don't want to be hurt, you know? I don't think I could take it. I couldn't lose another person I loved so soon."

Her words had been pulled from her like skin off her body. The sacrifice of so revealing a confession left a stunned silence in its wake, which Tara finally broke with the only reply she could think of.

"You…you have to trust me." She took her eyes off the road and looked at Kennedy. "I don't know how else to convince you."

Kennedy sighed, and nodded slightly. "Okay," she offered softly. "I trust you." She took Tara's free hand and held it to her cheek for a moment, before kissing the inside of her wrist. Tara turned her hand and interlaced their fingers together before looking back towards the road.

They arrived at the airport and retrieved their tickets. Kennedy had booked the early morning flight, and so it was a heavy-eyed quiet as they waited to board the plane to Los Angeles. The cabin was empty for the most part, and so they stretched out along rows of seats in the attempt to sleep more comfortably once the plane had lifted off.

Tara fell immediately into a deep dreamless sleep. She only stirred as the landing gears lowered, jarring her awake. She looked in the row behind her, where Kennedy remained in slumber. The announcement asking all passengers to fasten their seatbelts came on over the speakers, and so she reluctantly nudged Kennedy awake.

The peacefulness that had settled over her while she was sleeping disappeared as soon as she stirred. "Is everything okay?" she asked, tension, that only a few days ago had been absent, settling back into her shoulders.

Tara stroked her cheek gently. "We're here," she explained. "We're fine."

Kennedy nodded, and took a deep breath. "Sorry," she said sheepishly. "I thought that something bad was happening."

"It would be a safe assumption to make the way things have been lately," Tara admitted sadly.

They made their way off the plane and claimed their baggage before hailing a taxi. Once Tara had given the driver the address to Buffy's house, she settled into her seat, only vaguely aware of how tightly she was holding Kennedy's hand.

She was so afraid of what would greet them once they arrived that she could barely breath. She was afraid of how they would look at her when they opened the door, how they would react when the first time she had returned to them since running away was in fear of her girlfriend's and her own life.

They would think her a coward for running away when things seemed bad, and for coming back at the first real sign of trouble. They would despise her for bringing Kennedy with her, for rubbing her happiness in Willow's face when she arrived.

But it was her duty to bring Kennedy to Sunnydale. Kennedy was a Potential, and that surpassed Tara's desire to avoid confrontation. Things were much bigger than her fearing her friends' reactions to her return. She would have to take it – and take it with her head held high – because she knew she deserved their resentment.

She just hoped that it wouldn't spread to Kennedy merely through their association.

The taxi pulled up onto the driveway of the house that was all too familiar. Tara paid the driver and they exited, retrieving their luggage from the trunk. The motor rumbled and the driver reversed onto the road. The two women stared after it, watching their last means of escape disappear.

"Are you ready?" asked Tara, taking a breath.

"I wish I weren't," Kennedy answered, taking Tara's hand in reassurance. She held it tightly in hers, trying to radiate courage but only communicating how terrified she actually was.

Together, still hand-in-hand, they walked to the front door. The curtains of the living room window were drawn, but Tara could see movement inside. Her resolve broke, and for a moment, she could do nothing but stand frozen in her fear. She looked at Kennedy and shook her head. "I can't do this."

Kennedy looked at her solemnly before ringing the doorbell herself. "Come on, babe, be strong," she said quietly. "I'm scared too. But we have to do this. You said so yourself."

Tara sighed. "You're right," she conceded. She smiled at her girlfriend, enjoying this final moment of peace before facing her demons.

The latch clicked, and almost unconsciously Tara let go of Kennedy's hand. Kennedy opened her mouth to protest, but she did not have the opportunity to say anything before Willow's face appeared from behind the opened door.

A smile was visible on her face, but it did not travel to her eyes, tired and hard, as if she had not slept in weeks. "Tara, I –" she stopped speaking, as if torn between rushing forward to embrace her and slamming the door in their faces. She finally settled on a smile that was slightly more genuine than her original expression. "It's good to see you."

Tara could tell that she truly meant those words, as a surge of heat embraced her aura. She looked up in surprise at Willow, who stared intensely back at her. The action did not go unnoticed by Kennedy, who also flinched at the flash of energy. Willow glanced over nervously, as if realizing that the moment was not quite as private as she had hoped it to be.

"This is Kennedy," Tara butted in quickly before the conversation took a turn for the worse.

All business, Kennedy played her part. "It's nice to finally meet you." She extended her hand in greeting and truce.

Willow reciprocated the action, shaking hands firmly with the Potential. "We've been expecting you," she answered, her tone a little too cool to be natural. She turned back to Tara. "There was no trouble getting here then?"

"Unless you count a mild case of motion sickness, n-nothing too exciting," Tara countered in an attempt to lighten the mood. Everybody was decent enough to go along with the joke, grinning uneasily as they simultaneously realized that there was nothing more that could be said at the moment. Tara wished to speak to both Kennedy and Willow, but not with the other present.

Luckily, they were saved from any further awkwardness by the group in the living room. "Is Giles back already?" Tara identified that it was Buffy.

Willow smiled sincerely for the first time since they had arrived. "Better, Buff." She opened the door wider, beckoning them in.

To Be Continued

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