The morning was already almost gone when Faith decided it was great time to wake Tara up. She had had her breakfast in a café in the town center and had gone for an early walk to let some steam off. She then came back to the motel and noticed without any surprise that the room's curtains were still drawn, which meant that the witch was probably still in bed.
Faith watched the window for a moment from the ground floor and sighed. Then she climbed the stairs leading to the first-floor rooms and came resolutely in the room number thirteen.
As foreseen, Tara was still sleeping and the blonde jumped up abruptly to her entrance. So abruptly that Faith almost regretted for a second to have stormed in the room like this. Then, she remembered her too short night and the time it was and her guilt vanished as quickly as it had occurred.
"Wake up Blondie!" She exclaimed in a fake happy tone. "It's late in the morning and it's time for you to come back to the land of the liv…"
Faith stopped when she realized what she was about to say.
"Well, time to get up I mean" She finished in a grumble.
Then she went to the window and opened the curtains wide.
"Okay, Faith…" She mumbled for herself with her back to Tara. "Almost got out that load of shit a second time in two days"
But Tara didn't even notice her companion's inauspicious beginning of phrasing. With her eyes half-closed, she tried to get used to the new ambient luminous and it seemed to be hard on her. Faith turned to her and smirked when she saw the blonde's tousled hair and sleepy look. Then, her amusement vanished when she noticed the deep rings devouring the witch's cheeks.
"Do you have to so noisy?" Tar asked a bit dryly.
Faith shrugged and let herself fall heavily at the end of bed.
"I guess. You would sleep all day if I didn't do anything"
"And?" Tara asked.
"And what?" Faith replied in an annoyed tone Tara knew by heart now.
Tara sat up slightly and leant against the wall behind her before crossing her arms over her chest.
"And what could you have to do to get up early in the morning?"
Faith looked hurt by the witch's question for a second. But she regained her composure immediately and stood with a mask of perfect indifference on her face.
"That's just me" she said. "Can't stay in place. Need to move"
Saying this, she came back to the window and looked outside. Then she turned again to Tara and pointed the room in a circular gesture.
"And don't tell me you find that dump attrative?"
Tara sat up a little more, looked around her and seemed to consider the question. Her eyes roamed to the gray dirty walls, to the old washbasin, to the poor wooden chair before coming to the bed she was sitting on.
"It's not that bad" She finally answered.
Faith looked at her with a dumbfounded look for a second, wondering if the witch was serious or not.
"You're serious? Or do you just say that to piss me off?" She asked, giving voice to her thoughts.
The witch didn't answer immediately and Faith didn't give her time to say something.
"Whatever. There's nothing to do around here and I need to move"
She crossed the room again and turned to Tara before going out.
"There're showers at the end of the corridor. We take off as soon as you're ready."
Faith put her hand on the doorknob, seemed to hesitate for a second and said again:
"We'll make a stop in the town center for you to have breakfast"
Tara shook slightly her head.
"No need for that. I'm not really hungry. I… I can wait…later"
Faith hesitated again and remained silent some more seconds, watching the blonde who had sketched a half reassuring smile on her face.
"I promise" Tara insisted.
"As you want" The Slayer said finally. "I let getting ready."
Then she went out and closed the door behind her, leaving Tara alone again.
Less than an hour later, the young women had resumed their trip. Each sat in the place that had become hers, Faith driving and Tara beside her. Weather was gloomy. It wasn't really bad but the sky was grey as far as the eye could see. A light wind was blowing and lifted the dust on the side of the road in mild swirls. The sun was nowhere to be seen.
Faith had nevertheless opened her window to enjoy the breeze caressing her face.
An arm thrown through the window, the wheel in her other hand, the Slayer was driving with her trademark nonchalance.
As usual, silence had fallen on the car and only the radio could be heard as it was quietly playing.
"If we're doing good, we'll have crossed Illinois before sunset" Faith said mechanically, more for herself than for Tara.
"Where do you want to go?" The witch asked.
Faith turned to her with surprise. She hadn't obviously expected a reaction from the blonde.
"Iowa" She answered simply as she turned again to the road. "We'll probably get there tonight"
"Why?" Tara asked again.
"Why what?" Faith said absently, turning to Tara a second time.
The Slayer casually shrugged.
"Don't know. Just wanted to see some of the country. Never got to the centre and the north. I get the chance to go now. So why not? So, Iowa first. Then, farther."
This time, Tara didn't reply anything and Faith didn't say more.
The Slayer grabbed the wheel with her left hand and scooped the right one to take her pack of cigarettes laid on the dashboard. She lighted one before laying down the pack back. Faith dragged some puffs in silence before turning again to her travel mate. Tara was looking through the window in seemed lost in thoughts. Faith watched her thoughtfully for some seconds before pulling her out of her reverie:
"And you Blondie? Did you travel before?"
Tara turned to her and considered her with surprise and hesitation. She wavered and seemed to think about the question.
"C'mon Tara, it's not a hard question!" Faith urged her.
The witch crossed her arms over her chest and shook slightly her head.
"Not… Not really"
Faith waited for a second for her to precise, not wanting to push the usually so mute witch.
"What do you mean, not really?" She eventually asked, when she understood that her patience wouldn't be rewarded.
"I…" Tara began.
If she had intended to tell something more, she didn't have time. As it had already happened the day before, the car backfired and its speed suddenly decreased. With got immediately Faith's attention away from Tara.
"Shit!" The Slayer growled angrily. "What's going on AGAIN?"
Faith pressed carefully the accelerator and the car backfired even more, getting a new angry cry from the brunette.
"Shit! Shit and shit!" She repeated furiously as she parked the car on the side of the road. "This is happening again!"
The vehicle stopped and Faith got out then slammed violently the door behind her witch made Tara jump whereas the blonde had expected the Slayer to storm out that way.
Faith went round the car quickly and rolled her eyes when she noticed nothing unusual. When she was back at the front of the car, she tried abruptly to open the hood before remembering she hadn't freed it. Faith opened her door again and bent forward to pull on the command to open the hood.
"What's wrong?" Tara asked.
"Don't know" Faith barely answered and got out of the car again.
This time, Faith could lift the hood and sighed with lassitude, her hands on her hips as she cast a glance to the engine.
"I feel like I've already lived that" she grumbled. "Please tell me it's not a remake of 'Groundhog Day'…"
Then the Slayer laid both hands on the edge of the engine and bent slightly forward.
"I bet my quick fix didn't last…"
Saying this, Faith started to search the concerned pipe but stopped when she heard the door slam. She looked up to see Tara who had got out of the car.
"What're you doing?" Faith asked.
"Going for walk?" Tara offered.
"Yeah, go…" Faith grumbled and looked at the witch walking some steps. "Go for a walk when I try to fix this mess"
She was about to resume her task when the trademark cry she had discovered the night before made her turn around abruptly.
At her feet, all fangs and claws out, stood a demon strictly identical as the one she had fought and defeated the evening before.
Faith dropped her arms on her side in a dramatic gesture and let escape a long bored sigh.
"I'm sure this time." She said in a casual tone. "I relive days"
The Slayer put her hand behind her back and got a long dagger from her belt.
"Bit this time, I'm all ready" she added with a fierce smile.
The monster spat and screamed again and Faith didn't wait for it to attack. She swung violently her foot forward to hit the beast but it avoided Faith's assault with agility and attacked immediately in its turn. Faith dodged rolling in her side. The demon turned around and got ready to jump on her prey again as Faith was still laying on the ground and was gazing at him as to challenge him.
Tara's voice broke the moment. The monster stopped dead in its tracks to turn to the witch who had just emerged from behind the car.
"Shit!" Faith growled and got to her feet immediately as the demon interest was now clearly to Tara. "Perfect timing Blondie!" She yelled then to the witch.
Tara didn't reply and let escape a little scream, as the demon was about to jump onto her. Faith's eyes widened in surprise and terror when she saw that Tara didn't make as if she was going to try to avoid it.
"Tara, get back! Move!" the Slayer screamed at the top of her lungs.
She wanted to rush at the demon and to try to grab it around the waist as she had done the night before. But she knew she was too far from it to grab it before it reached Tara. Faith considered the dagger she still held firmly in her hand and without wavering, she threw it at full force at the demon. The blade rebounded violently on the sharp picks coming from the demon's back and fell heavily on the ground.
That throw wasn't totally useless. The violence of the impact slightly sidetracked the demon's trajectory. But Faith saw nevertheless Tara topple over and disappear behind the car as the demon's left forward paw clutched her left shoulder.
Quick as a flash, Faith crossed the distance to the witch and the demon and grabbed her weapon on her way. She jumped over the hood and landed heavily beside the blonde. Feeling the Slayer coming in its back, the monster left its prey alone and turned to face Faith.
The Slayer cast a glance to the witch and noticed that only her shoulder seemed to be hurt. Without another glance to her travel mate, she headed to the demon with her dagger in hand.
It screamed with rage and stepped back in front of the Slayer's threatening stance. The, to Faith's great surprise, it went flat on its belly and slid under the car where it disappeared from Faith's sight. Faith choked a swear and bent carefully to notice the demon was nowhere to be seen.
"Shit!" Faith growled again, all her senses in alert, trying to find the beast.
Behind her, Tara got to her feet carefully and put her hand to her wounded shoulder. Her fingers ran onto the wound and Tara considered blankly the blood on her hand.
"What the hell are those things?" Faith grumbled in the meantime, still looking for the demon. "How can it be so small and so big at the same time?" She wondered out loud.
"They are n'kochki demons" She heard Tara answering.
Faith turned around abruptly to her, surprise paint on her face.
"They are n'kochki demons" Tara repeated as it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Small demons whose morphology is close to cats, with dangerous claws and fangs and able to hide in the most tiny places. They're known to like…"
"Really really known yeah…" Faith muttered.
"…they're known to like nibbling on cables" Tara went on without paying attention to Faith's outburst. " and to be always two"
Faith considered Tara a second with hesitance, obviously confused about what to do. A dull anger finally won over any other feelings.
"You couldn't say that before?" she yelled to Tara as she turned to her frankly this time. "You don't think you could have shared that news SOONER?"
Tara shrugged nonchalantly but stepped slightly back when Faith stepped forward.
"You…you didn't ask" She answered simply.
Faith remained stupid. She opened her mouth then closed it once or twice without any sound getting out as. She breathed in deeply to try to control herself and asked in the most sarcastic tone she could:
"And what are you going to tell me now? That the sharp picks on their back are poisoned and that I have 24 hours left to live?!"
Tara didn't seem to notice the irony in Faith's voice and shook seriously her head:
"No. Or at least, it wasn't written in the book where they were mentioned"
Faith looked again at Tara in astonishment then brushed aside any comment that came to her and simply rolled her eyes.
Faith stopped short and turned on her heels to the car as the demon jumped over it at that precise moment to try to land onto her with its threatening claws out.
The Slayer steeped back and stumbled on something – probably a rock or a branch. Faith first wanted to catch herself to avoid falling and she finally let herself heavily fall to the ground on her back.
As her back touched the ground, she stretched her arms in front of her.
The demon cried in pain as it impaled itself on the dagger Faith still held in her hands.
Immediately, the Slayer got the blade out of the demon's body and got to her feet at lightning speed.
The demon fell on the side with a new cry of pain but Faith didn't let it time to regain its composure and plunged her dagger again in its side with the same ferocity she had already shown the night before on its kind.
"C'mon guy, show me if you need more than your little friend to go to hell!" She grumbled to the demon as she repeatedly hit it with her knife.
The monster wanted to defend itself and gave some desperate scratches that touched their target from time to time. But the Slayer's rage and accuracy soon to reduce it to silence and the demon died before Faith counted how stabs had been needed for it to stop moving.
When she was sure it was dead, Faith got up, her dagger still in hand. She wiped the demon's blood on the grass at her feet and considered her torn wrists for some seconds. Then she looked for other possible wounds. When she found none, she turned to Tara with a smirk.
"Well" She said. "Let's check if your theory is right and if they're always JUST two or if other friends of them were invited to the party."
And she came back to the still lifted hood, her dagger in hand.
The hood slammed noisily when Faith released it.
"Relax Blondie" Faith told her with a smirk when she saw the blonde jump to the noise. "It's just the hood"
Tara didn't answer and looked away from Faith, resuming her previous task. The witch sat on the passenger seat in the car with the door open and tried to clean her wound with the makeshift first-aid kit Giles had forced Faith to take when they had left Cleveland.
Faith looked at her doing so for a time and opened her mouth to talk but closed it without saying anything. Faith shrugged and turned her back to Tara. She went away from the car and took her cell phone out of her pocket. She searched for a number and pressed the button to call and waited for her interlocutor to answer.
Some seconds later, Giles's voice greeted her at the other end of the line.
"Faith!" Giles said with his typical British accent, and Faith could imagine him frowning as he wondered about the reason for her to call. "What a pleasure to hear you. No problem I hope?"
Faith couldn't help but snigger to the question.
"No, no G-man, no problem. Well, no problem anymore. After killing the two n'koch-something demons hiding in the car, it's all better. You wanted to kill us with that freaky car?"
"What?" Giles asked in a confused tone.
"Your so pretty car, Giles" Faith explained. "There were two n'koch… koch something demons inside, kind of demonic cats…"
"N'kochki demons?" Giles asked, immediately understanding what faith was talking about. "In the car?"
"Exactly, hidden in…"
"It's fascinating" Giles resumed without paying attention to Faith. "I never saw one myself, but they are indeed known to like nibbling at cables and always be…"
"Two, I know, thank you" Faith interrupted. "And fascinating is really the word I would have chosen. Especially for their nice little picks on their back…"
"How's Tara?" the Watcher suddenly asked. "Is she hurt?"
Faith rolled her eyes and turned to the car at a dozen meters from her now. Tara was still cleaning her wound.
"A scratch" Faith answered. "She's fine. And I'm fine too if you're interested"
"Hum…" Giles said, suddenly embarrassed. "I know you're a tough girl Faith. And you pretty much sound healthy to me… And you can protect yourself. As for Tara, those demons could have…"
"Yeah, yeah…" Faith interrupted. « She's fine, don't worry… Well, for the moment"
"How's that for the moment?" Giles asked in a slightly panicked tone.
"The way things are going, I possibly could kill her myself," Faith said as she looked again toward the car. "She drives me nuts"
"Yes, yes…" Giles answered thoughtfully. "I guess… Post-resurrections are apparently not easy to handle, you have to be patient…"
Faith rolled her eyes again.
"Yeah… And patience is SO my first skill"
Giles didn't answer and remained silent for long seconds.
"Do you need something?" He eventually asked.
Faith mechanically shook her head.
"No, G-man. Told you I wanna do things by myself. I'm gonna be fine"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, yeah" Faith insisted. "Everything's fine. And I'm gonna leave you Giles, I think it's time for me to find a little restaurant, I'm starving. Killing demons always makes me hungry."
This time, Giles was the one to roll his eyes.
"Well… Enjoy your lunch then?"
"Yeah, thank you G-man, bye…"
"Yeah ? "
Faith hang up and put the phone back into her pocket. Then she came slowly back to the car where Tara was waiting for her.
Please tell me what you think.
TBC in '01x05 : In the middle of nowhere'