Author: Jacks aka WiccanHandprintz
"There is no way in hell you're doing it," Buffy said flatly as soon as Willow had snapped her phone closed. "We're going to go talk to Agent Henderson, right now, and then you're getting out of here." Willow shoved her cell phone back into the pocket of her slacks.
"If I don't show, he'll kill her." She was very pale, her gloved hands clenching and unclenching. Xander reached for her shoulder, but she held herself apart and frowned at him.
"Wills," he said, "this is insane. Got that? It's insane for you to go to that motel. Hell, it's more than nuts, it's suicidal!" Willow shook her head vehemently, her red hair slapping against her cheeks. She started to talk, then stopped and went on in a low, harsh whisper.
"If anyone is crazy here, it's Cole Raimey. He'll do what he said he'd do; he'll hurt her, and then he'll kill her. If we tell Henderson, she'll send her agents up there and he'll see them coming from a mile away. We might as well just go ahead and sign Tara's death warrant ourselves!"
"We don't have a choice," Buffy hissed. "Besides, Tara isn't my top priority, you are. We don't even know if-"
"If what?" Willow interrupted sharply. "If she was going to try to kill me? If she was going to give me to Raimey, or just use me as bait? Are you honestly saying that matters right now? Shit, Buff, see a shade of gray or two! Not everything is as black and white as you love to make it!"
"I'm sorry if my deciding that you're worth a little bit more than some two-faced-"
"Hey," Xander said, "Buffy? Shut up. Willow? You too." Both women stopped, glaring. He held up his hands, but didn't back down. "What are we gonna do here?" he asked, keeping his voice low. "Stand around fighting or figure out how to help your friend? Because I, for one, think you're both kind of right. If Raimey sees Henderson's agents, which he will, then Tara's screwed. But," he continued, looking at Willow, "if you go alone, you're screwed. So let's find a happy medium, ok?" Buffy sighed.
"Fine. I don't like this, but fine. I'm going," she said to the redhead.
"But if he sees you-"
"He won't. And I'm going. That's not debatable." Willow shook her head.
"Ok," she said, biting her lower lip. "So you'll be my backup. I'll go in alone, and you'll... stay hidden outside, I guess, and wait for my signal."
"Which will be?" Xander asked, shrugging out of his jacket and tying it around his waist. Willow blinked at him.
"Probably me screaming."
"Got it," Buffy said tersely. She still looked upset, but it was definitely more contained. "Do you still have that pistol?"
"Bring that with you. If things get out of control and I can't get there in time, for whatever reason, you shoot that bastard, understand?" Willow nodded. She opened her mouth, closed it, shuddered.
"He'll want to toy with me first," she said, visibly bringing herself under control. "Raimey doesn't really do 'enjoyment', but he does like playing around with people when he gets the chance. Psychologically, I mean. It's..." She hesitated, then went on. "It's what he really wants to do. Not the mob hits, all efficiency and quietness. He likes to hurt people. So he won't kill me when I walk in, and he probably won't kill Tara right away, either. That gives us time."
"Time for you to shoot him in the chest," Xander said, shaking his head. "Don't play his games, Willow. Don't wait around for him to get the better of you. If you won't let Buffy go in and pull her Xena shtick, then you need to just walk in there and shoot him as soon as you get the chance. As soon as he's talking to you, distracted, anything."
"I won't kill him," Willow objected, rubbing at her forearm. "I'll distract him myself, and get him focused on messing with me, and that's when Buffy comes in."
"So you're bait," Buffy said, sighing. "That's a weirdly familiar thought. Oh, right; that was what we were trying to avoid in the first place,"
"Maybe so," Willow allowed, "but if I'm the cheese and he's the rat, the trap will close before he can eat me." There was a pause. "Ok, that was a bad metaphor." She turned to the stairs. "I'll get the gun." As she reached the third step, Buffy called after her.
"I didn't mean it, Will." The redhead glanced over her shoulder at the blond, who furrowed her brow, but held her gaze. "About Tara." Willow, silent, continued up the stairs.
"She won't c-come," Tara said. Raimey was sitting on the bed beside her, casually tapping a gleaming scalpel blade against her forearm. He shrugged, and pressed down with the scalpel until blood rushed up to well around the blade. Tara gasped with the pain, and Raimey lifted the scalpel from her arm to peruse the blade as if it were a piece of fine art.
"Oh, I think she will."
"She d-doesn't care about m-me," Tara said, trying to ignore the sting from the cut on her arm. "She thinks I set her up."
"Well," Raimey said, "that's funny. If anything, she set you up. Not knowingly, of course, but still." He cut her again, without warning, barely even looking at her as he slashed the blade down across her forearm to leave another two-inch gash beside the first. This time Tara cried out, the skin around the wounds going numb while the cuts themselves seemed to burn. "Keep your voice down, won't you? I'd hate to have to gag you and miss out on your charming conversational skills." He punctuated this with a quick, sharp jab to her collarbone, one that left her with blood trickling down between her breasts.
"Fuck you," Tara bit out, trying again to wriggle away from Raimey. Her shoulders wrenched, her legs twisted, and she got nowhere.
"Why, when you'd so much rather fuck her?" He smiled. "She doesn't know you're a murderer, Tara. What do you think she'll say when she finds out? So many secrets you've been hiding, little girl."
"I t-told you," Tara said, blinking away sudden and unwelcome tears. "She's n-not interested. I'm sure she w-won't give a damn." Oh, right, T. She won't care at all.
"Well, we'll see, won't we? Meanwhile, I'll just entertain myself here. While I'm doing this," Raimey added pointedly, slashing another bloody line across the back of Tara's wrist, "I'd like you to contemplate our friend Mr. Lyman's last minutes. Or, should I say," and another, higher up on the arm, "his last seconds. After all, scissors to the throat can be quite a quick way to go. Excruciatingly painful, but it's over fast." Tara didn't bother to reply, squeezing her eyes shut as the tears finally did slip down her cheeks, focusing only on not crying out again. She wouldn't give him a scream, so he could gag her like a child. She wouldn't give him that.
"I'll take her to the airport with Xander," Buffy told Agent Henderson quietly. "She may hate us for it, but we'll get her out of here."
"Get her to Quantico; we'll set her up with a program there. Are you sure you don't want an agent with you?" Buffy shook her head, glancing back towards where Willow sat with Xander, nervously tapping her hands against the table.
"I barely convinced her to leave; if you try to set her up with a bodyguard she doesn't know, she'll freak." Henderson sighed, rubbing a hand across her eyes.
"You're probably right about that. All right. Move her out."
Buffy turned, going to the kitchen table. She took Willow's elbow and lifted her carefully out of her chair. Xander led the way, opening the front door for the two women and, with a nod at Henderson, closing it behind them.
Willow, Buffy and Xander made their way down Willow's walkway to Buffy's car, which was parked in the lot alongside a nondescript police car. The cop inside the maroon Subaru looked at them, reaching for the window button; Buffy leaned in and said something, and he sat back. Moving as calmly and deliberately as possible, Willow let Xander hand her into the backseat of Buffy's car, buckling her seatbelt as her two friends slid into the front seats.
Once they were out of the driveway and on the forest-lined Virginia road, Willow let out a breath.
"Henderson's going to kill me herself when she finds out we duped her."
"Probably," Xander agreed. "Let's hope she gets the chance."