When Faith came back after the most boring patrol ever, she found Tara awake and cross-legged on the sofa.
"Not sleeping Blondie?" She asked as she put her weapons on the table.
"Apparently I am" Tara replied, rolling her eyes.
Faith abruptly turned to her, surprised to hear her replying and trying to sound funny.
"Yeah. Okay. Stupid question" she admitted.
She came to sit on the other side of the sofa and lit a cigarette.
"You've worn him down. He fell asleep even before I finished the reading"
Faith nodded absent-mindedly and dragged a long puff.
"Reading uh?" she simply said.
"Yeah. No one ever reads stories. He's so alone"
"He's not a demon," Tara said once again, in a firmer tone. "You know that now, right?"
Faith shrugged and didn't answer. When she was done with her cigarette, she crushed it in the ashtray on the coffee table, and then turned to the blonde witch.
"You should go to bed Blondie. I'm gonna claim my sofa"
"You can have the bedroom if you want" Tara suggested
"No" Faith said, shaking her head. "Sofa's perfect for me and for little time I need to sleep"
Tara didn't insist and got up to head toward the corridor. She mouthed a "good night" and disappeared. Faith then slipped her clothes off, got her nightshirt from a corner of the sofa and lied before closing her eyes.
When she opened them again, she suddenly stood on the sofa, totally awake and all senses in alarm. Something was wrong. Something was really wrong. A quick look through the window taught her it was still night and she knew it wasn't that long since she had gone to bed. Faith smelt the air around her and what she felt fill her lungs told her what had awaked her in the middle of the night.
She jumped from the sofa and rushed to the corridor. She had been right. A gray smoke was coming from there and attacked the Slayer's eyes.
"Tara! Leo!" She screamed at the top of her lungs.
She reached Leo's door first and sharply opened it without thinking. He was still in bed and Faith grabbed violently the child and shook him to wake him. He jumped and sharply stepped back but Faith didn't let him enough time for another reaction.
"The house's burning kid" she explained as quickly as she could. "Go out fast, it's coming from the other bedroom"
"What about Tara?" the boy asked as he hastily got up.
"I'm taking care of this. Get out from here"
He bent under his bed, seemingly looking for something under Faith's horrified gaze. Faith seized him by his collar and got him to his feet.
"What the hell are you doing? I told you to get out!"
"My books!" Leo protested in a panicked voice.
"Forget them" Faith growled. "Get out from here"
She pulled him out of the room and Leo regretfully obeyed and rushed toward the living room while Faith crossed the distance to the room where Tara was sleeping. She could feel heat coming from there and smoke was denser.
Faith noisily opened the door and stood still for a second when she saw the scene in front of her. Flames were dancing in the room, consuming the right wall and were sometimes rising up to the ceiling.
Tara was lying on the floor on the other side of the room and looked unconscious. Faith crossed quickly the distance between her and the witch and winced to the stifling heat.
Her fingers came immediately to the blonde throat to take her pulse and sighed with relief when she noticed she was breathing.
Faith effortlessly lifted her and rushed to the door that the flames were almost reaching now. A piece of ceiling fell just before her and Faith had to step over it to cross the threshold. She winced to the heat she felt on her calf but the pain disappeared almost immediately.
She had no more problems to get out and found Leo outside waiting for her in front of the house. The kid was obviously worried and was curiously looking at the house.
Faith laid Tara beside him and gently shook her. Tara coughed, spat and her eyes fluttered to finally open.
"You okay Blondie?"
Tara nodded and coughed again.
"Fi-fire…" she whispered.
Faith rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips.
"Yeah. Fire. How do you think you got out?"
Tara stared at her and nodded again.
"Are you okay?"
The Slayer nodded too.
"I'm five by five Blondie. No problem"
She then turned to the house. A heavy dark smoke was rising up from the back and flames could be seen advancing fast.
"Was time" Faith commented.
She then looked at Leo whom Tara was carefully checking out to be sure he was okay. Faith was surprised to see her bag and her clothes lying on the floor.
"What's this?" she asked, pointing to them and frowning at Leo.
"Your stuff" he calmly answered.
"I clearly remember telling you to get out as quickly as possible" she grumbled.
"I thought you could use them" Leo replied with a mischievous smile.
Faith considered her pair of boxers and had to admit it : she could use this. She grabbed the jeans and slipped it on quickly.
"I'm gonna call firemen" she said as she was slipping her boots on.
But she didn't have to actually do what she intended. Just when she was about to dial the number, she heard the firemen siren ringing out in the distance.
"Seems that the neighbors are keeping tabs on us…" she commented.
Fire wasn't long to control and the firemen managed to save the front of the house. They checked Tara and Leo out but none of them insisted to do the same with Faith when she made clear it wasn't useful for her.
Dawn was nevertheless almost there as Tara and Leo were settled in the hall of the motel where Tara and Faith had booked a room at their arrival. Leo had claimed a magazine and was doing crosswords puzzles. Tara was slumped in her seat and seemed deeply lost in her thoughts.
Faith for her part was at the reception desk and was flipping through the pages of a phone book with a phone in her.
"Got Peter on the phone" she announced to Tara and Leo a little later.
Tara got out from her reverie and turned to Faith and nodded.
"G-good. You t-told him?" We have to t-tell the villagers"
"We'll tell them when we get there." She said and slumped in a chair in her turn. "Admitting they don't already know" she added, snorting.
"What're you doing kid?" she added, turning to Leo.
"Crosswords" the child replied without looking up from his magazine.
Faith bent forward to look at the pages blackened by the boy. She arched an eyebrow.
"Not bad kid" she said in an appreciative tone. "What do you think Blondie?" she added for Tara.
Tar nodded and looked tenderly at the child.
"He's gifted. Really gifted"
Faith turned to look at the hall for a second then turned back to Tara.
"Do you know how fire began?"
"Why are you asking me this? Do you think Leo is…"
"I don't know. But you know what they'll say. There already was a fire before"
"Do you really think he's…" Tara resumed in a firmer tone, anger shining in her eyes.
"Calm down Blondie" Faith said, rolling her eyes. "I'm just saying…"
"You think it's his fault!" Tara interrupted and got up.
She stood straight in front of the Slayer who hadn't moved in a bit in her chair and clenched her fists along her body.
"I have to warn you, I won't let anyone…."
The receptionnist's voice interrupted them and both girls turned to the young man who had come to them.
"what?" Faith asked.
"I think there're people looking for you…"
Both girls turned round to the hall entrance he was pointing out. Behind the door, they could see several figures were waiting.
"Great" Faith grumbled. "I was missing them SO hard…"
She got up and gestured to Tara and Leo to follow.
"Let's see what they want"
But Tara didn't move in a bit. And Leo didn't either. He had put back in magazine on the coffee table and was looking at each of them with a glimmer of fear in his eyes.
"Okay" Faith said, rolling her eyes. "I'm going. You just stay here"
Faith headed quickly to the motel door and got out. Outside, a group of men were waiting for her. She recognized Peter and men present when they had introduced Leo. And they didn't look happy.
"We heard what happened. The house burnt again" Peter explained.
"We warned you. It's not the first time. The kid is responsible for this" Another man said in a more aggressive tone.
"What are you going to do?" Peter asked.
"You wanted a proof." Another said. "You've got one"
"You said you would do something"
Faith openly sniggered.
"A proof?" she mocked.
"The kid is responsible for the fire" repeated one of the men.
"If you don't want to do anything, just give him back!" Exclaimed one of them, stepping forward and obviously exasperated by the Slayer's mocking tone.
"He's not responsible for the fire" Faith calmly replied.
"How do you know?" grumbled her interlocutor.
"I know it"
"You're protecting him!" Yelled another one, stepping forward too. "That kid's dangerous!"
"Why that? 'Cause he knows more things than you?"
Faith turned round and saw Tara coming outside in her turn. The witch was standing behind the Slayer and was looking defiantly at the group of men.
"What does she want?" the man said, looking angrily at Tara.
Faith rolled her eyes and leant against the doorframe.
"I have to warn you, she's kinda stubborn…"
"He's not a demon. He's not responsible for the fire."
"That's what you're telling! You don't know!"
"Oh, I do. I know. The fire started in my room"
The man's mouth closed for a second but he resumed almost immediately.
"It's not important. If you don't believe us, just give him back"
Tara's reply was firm, unequivocal.
"You won't have him"
The most aggressive man of the group loudly sniggered and turned to the others.
"Guys, you're hearing that? What is she thinking she can do?"
He turned back to her and his face was hard.
"Believe me bird, you won't prevent me to get the kid back. If you don't want to be the ones to teach him how life works, I will"
"Just like you already do?" Tara shot back in a harsh tone, which made Faith arch an eyebrow.
The man sniggered again and he became almost threatening.
"What do you think? You think you know 'cause you had him for two days? I know how that kid works. And you don't know anything"
"Oh, I know enough!"
"I want Leo back!" The man yelled and stepped closer to Tara.
"No" Tara repeated still firmly. "No"
"I, I'm gonna…" the other fumed.
But he was interrupted by a new voice.
"Mr. Irvin? Miss Maclay?"
Tara and the man turned around at the same time and saw a forty years-old blonde woman looking at them. Two men were with her.
"Are you Tara Maclay?" the woman repeated.
Tara frowned and turned to her.
"Y-yes. And you are?"
"Emily Warren. Social services from Buffalo"
"Social services?" the man talking previously to Tara repeated. "What are social services doing here?"
"We're here to come and get Leo Irvin" the woman really calmly replied. "Miss Maclay informed us about possible abuses"
The man turned alternately between Emily Warrant and Tara before looking intently at her.
"How dare you? Who do you think you are?"
He stepped forward Tara with a threatening look on his face. Fait stood and came between the man and the witch.
"Easy man" she said coldly.
"Are you Vincent Irvin?" Emily Warren asked. "Leo's uncle?"
"Yeah himself" he abruptly replied.
"We're going to take Leo with us. I want to see the boy"
"Take him? You have no right"
"What I've just witnessed is more than enough to take that child away while our services check if Miss Maclay's statements are the truth."
"You won't take him away" grumbled Vincent Irvin. "You don't know anything about him"
"I advise you not to make our case worse Mr. Irvin" Emily Warren warned. "Where's the child?" she asked, turning to Tara.
"Follow me" the blonde said and she opened the motel door.
When the two women and the two men from the social services had disappeared in the motel, Faith stood between the door and the villagers.
"See?" She said, sneering. "You wanted us to get rid off him. We're doing it"
Tara hugged Leo one last time, quickly stoked his hair then got up.
"Good luck" she whispered as she released the boy.
Leo returned the hug and turned to Faith. She held out her hand and the kid topped it happily.
"Good luck kid"
Then Emily Warren had him getting in the car. The door closed. Leo gestured to the girls and the car got away and disappeared.
They both remained still for a second looking where the car had gone then turned round to go to their own.
"So, you knew he wasn't a demon?" Tara eventually asked after a silence. "That he just was a gifted child?"
"I'm a Slayer. Demons are my job" she said. "And you know… my mom used to tell I was a demon." She added after a hush. "But I wasn't one"
"Well, not exactly!" she mocked.
Tara couldn't help but sketch a smile to that.
"For the gifted thing, I had no idea, was your thing"
"You should have said you knew" said Tara a little later.
"Why that? You were so sure. You didn't need me"
Tara seemed to waver about what to tell next.
"I think it's my fault if there's been a fire" she quickly declared. "I –I wanted to do the spell. The demons spell. To convince you"
Faith started to laugh.
"I suspected it was you! It was coming from your bedroom!"
"I thought you didn't remember that spell?" she added just after.
"Well, I know that spell for like… ever." Tara whispered. "I don't think I can forget it. Ever. And I found at the village everything I needed to perform it. I think I fell asleep without putting the candles out and…"
She fell silent, obviously ashamed.
"It's something that never happened to me. Before."
"Don't worry Blondie. No one died. That's what is important. And you saved that kid. That's what is important too."
Faith fell silent again as they got to the car. She unlocked the doors, threw the car in the back and got in the car in the same time as Tara.
"And, we ate free for three days. That's important too." She concluded as she switched the engine on.
End of 'Rescuers'
To be continued in 'Alone in the dark'