Fire had eventually died and sun had risen. Faith was still leaning against the rock with Tara in her arms. The Slayer was perfectly still, save for the regular move of her chest. But she wasn't sleeping. Her wide-opened eyes were roaming around; her ears were on the lookout, her muscles tensed, ready to react at any sign of a danger.
She could have got up several hours before, when dawn had risen on the horizon. But Tara was sleeping so peacefully that Faith hasn't felt like waking her. The blonde had finally completely relaxed and had sunk into deep sleep with her head rested on Faith's shoulder. Despite the hard conditions of that night in the mountain, Faith thought that she had never seen the blonde sleeping so well in weeks.
So despite her numb muscles, Faith had let her sleep when day had risen.
A slight noise on her right made her turn her head. Leaves insistently moved and Faith moved one of her hands to the dagger beside her, trying not to wake Tara. The second after, a wild cat appeared near them and considered curiously the girls before scampering off. Faith laid the dagger back.
Her care to let Tara sleep wasn't enough and Tara's eyelids fluttered opened. She slightly moved then looked up and her eyes crossed Faith's. Tara turned her head and considered her position, the brunette's arm around her shoulder and her head resting on Faith's. She abruptly stood and got free from Faith's embrace as the Slayer stepped back quickly too.
An uneasy silence followed. Faith got to her feet and cleaned the dust off her jeans without a glance for the blonde who was looking around her as to remember what she was doing there.
"Hum…" Faith said after a moment she spent to arranger her weapons at her belt. "If you're okay Blondie, I think we can get back"
Tara nodded and got up in her turn.
"W-what t-time is it?" she hesitantly asked.
"Don't know" Faith answered, shrugging. "But dawn rose a few hours ago"
"Oh!" Tara said with surprise. "Maybe you should have…"
But she didn't finish her sentence and just nodded.
"I'm ready" she simply said.
Faith nodded too.
"Well, let's go. Let's see if we can find our way back or if we're gonna starve in here!"
Tar pouted and Faith smirked.
"Don't worry Blondie, I'm gonna find"
Faith checked one last time the weapons at her belt then threw the backpack on her shoulder.
But just a few meters later, Faith abruptly stopped.
Tara recognized her stance, the stance telling that the Slayer had heard something.
Faith gestured to her to be quiet and carefully listened. Then she suddenly turned around and jumped on Tara who toppled over.
Tara hit the ground but her fall was slightly softened by Faith's hand in her back. The witch saw then their flying demon passing above their heads.
Faith immediately got to her feet and drew her crossbow out. But the monster was faster than the evening before and it was already coming back to them before she had time to fire. She just had time to get off its way as a column of flames engulfed the spot she was standing just before.
Faith came back to Tara who was getting off the ground and helped her to her feet.
"Looking to be on form this morning" she said quickly as she watched the demon coming back toward them.
The monster snarled and expelled a spray of fire to them. Faith dragged Tara with her behind a rock to shelter.
"I'm gonna take care of it Blondie. It won't be able to attack both of them at the same time. I'll try to get its attention. Go in the opposite direction. Okay?"
"But…" Tara protested.
"No buts" Faith ordered. "Anyway, I'm sure you don't want to end as a grilled toast for dragon. Do what I tell you"
Without letting Tara time to answer, Faith stepped aside from their protecting rock and loaded her crossbow. She fired but she missed it and Faith yelled in rage. She then took off on her left and cast a glance behind her to make sure that the demon was following her and that Tara was doing as she had been told. She was satisfied to see everything was happening as she wanted.
Faith avoided new flames, rolled onto the ground, turned around and fired again. The bolt missed its target again.
She got to her feet, ran to shelter behind a rock from new flames and fired once again. This time the bolt stuck into the demon's skin and it snarled in rage before coming back toward Faith again.
"Shit!" Faith grumbled. "I won't come through like that…"
She looked again discreetly above the rock and saw the demon's lonely eye staring at her before it spat another flames at her. Faith plunged again behind the rock and felt the air above her head getting warmer.
"I can't attack it face on…" she whispered for herself. "The only way is to attack by its blind side…"
New flames crashed into the rock and Faith suddenly saw the dragon's shadow rising above her. The Slayer stepped aside and bypassed it when the dragon poured a torrent of flames where she was hiding the instant before.
Faith nimbly climbed on the rock and found herself at the dragon level, on its blind side. Without wavering, she jumped forward on the monster. She fell astride its neck and squeezed it at full force.
The dragon immediately cried and bucked and Faith had to cling on to the demon's neck with all her strength. The demon reared again and Faith let go of her crossbow she still had in hand.
"Damnit!" she growled, looking at her now out of reach weapon.
Faith's focus had to come back quickly to the problem at hand when the dragon shook frantically its head. Faith bent forward and tightened her grip around the demon's neck while feverishly searching a weapon at her belt with her free hand. When she had her longest dagger in hand, Faith started to hit furiously the demon's neck. The demon's kicks got faster, it started to spit fire in every directions, yelling so piercing cries that Faith winced in pain. Her grip loosened and the Slayer was thrown off the dragon's back.
Surprised, Faith couldn't catch hold of the demon's neck and her body fell hard on the ground a few meters lower.
The Slayer let escape a moan. She stayed still for a moment and focused on the pain. Her left leg and her back were hurting and she could feel her shoulder was bleeding again. Faith blinked. She suddenly felt weak and had to make an effort to remain conscious.
The dragon snarling close to her brought her back to reality. Faith blinked again and pushed on her legs to step aside. The dragon was just above her and the Slayer felt warmth on her calves as she got away. She found herself behind the demon and with her dagger still in hand, she wanted to hit the beast's side again. As she raised her arm to hit, she didn't react quickly enough to avoid the demon's tail. Faith was hit in full stomach and her breath choked in her throat as she was thrown several meters away by the violent impact.
She got immediately to her knees and touched her ribs. They were hurting and she supposed that at least one of them was broken. She spat blood.
Faith looked for her dagger she had let go in her fall. Not finding it, she feverishly looked for another one at her belt.
Tara's high-pitched shouting made her look up. The blonde was standing just a dozen feet away from where she had left her and she was staring at her.
Faith rolled her eyes when she noticed that the demon had heard her to and was looking at the blonde. Faith saw then with horror that the demon was now flying toward Tara.
She got to her feet with some difficulty and looked for her crossbow or any way to reach for the monster. Her eyes quickly came back to the blonde and Faith saw she wasn't moving. Again she searched for a mean to hit the demon from where she was. She would never have time to reach Tara before it.
A sudden burst of panic shook Tara when she saw the demon coming toward her. She looked frantically around her to find a way to escape but her legs were shaking too violently for her to make a step. She looked again around her, then beyond the dragon and saw Faith without her crossbow, too far from her.
"Tara! Move!" The Slayer yelled at the top of her lungs with a hint of panic in her voice.
Tara saw her looking around searching something. She wanted to obey to the Slayer's command. She wanted to search for an escape, a spell but her brain refused to work. She looked at the demon swooping down on her.
"Tara! Move!" Faith yelled again.
When she thought the demon was about to get it over with the still motionless blonde, she finally moved. She threw herself on the side to avoid the demon and started to run in the direction he had come from.
High flames engulfed two trees behind Tara. The dragon snarled with frustration and followed half a circle around the burning trees before coming back toward the girls.
Faith came to meet Tara, slightly limping.
"You okay Blondie?" she asked, watching for the demon's approach above Tara's shoulder.
Tara nodded and tried to control her breath before asking;
"W-what a-are- w-we doing?"
"Don't know" Faith growled. "That thing's tough. Still on top form despite all that I hit. And it's really hard to get close with those damn flames"
Tara turned around to see the demon coming toward them.
"What are we doing?" she repeated, looking at the Slayer in the eye.
"Well… Right now…" Faith replied and started to move. "We're running!"
The Slayer pulled on Tara's wrist and both girls cleared off as fast as possible.
"Let's find a place to shelter! Time for me to find something to get rid off that thing!"
Both girls were running as fast as they could and were weaving in and out the trees to try to lose the demon and to get off its line of sight. Tara was doing her best to follow the Slayer. But she was already exhausted and Faith was further with each step. She felt fatigue taking over and her legs weakening and despite her efforts, she couldn't go any faster.
Jumping above a branch across her path, Tara landed badly and felt her ankle twist. She stumbled over and felt tears of pain forming in the corner of her eyes.
She tried to call the Slayer but her name choked in her throat.
She turned round and saw the demon arriving to her.
Faith stopped and turned around, her instinct telling her that Tara wasn't following her anymore. Faith saw her lying on the ground with a wince of pain on her face. The demon was really close to her now.
"Oh my God" the Slayer whispered.
Tara looked at the demon coming closer and closer. Her breath quickened, she tried to get to her feet but her legs wouldn't move. Again she desperately searched her memories for something useful. But the demon was there now.
And as it was opening its mouth to reduce her to ashes, words were suddenly there in her mouth. An incantation in Latin which came back from darkness and she reeled off quickly and precisely as she had never forgotten it.
Faith looked at the dragon coming close to Tara who still wasn't moving and was looking at it with panic in her eyes. She saw her opening her mouth and pronouncing words she couldn't clearly hear despite her Slayer-hearing.
She saw the demon's mouth opening and getting ready to pour flames onto the blonde. But nothing happened. The dragon spat but spat nothing. Faith's eyes opened wide in surprise.
She didn't remain there a long time wondering what could have happened and ran toward Tara as fast as she could. Faith put two daggers in her hands and got ready to attack once again.
"Get off Tara!"
Tara crawled back to move away from the dragon, which was still trying unsuccessfully to spit fire. It snarled, stopped to stare at the retreating blonde. It tried again to reduce her to ashes but nothing happened this time too. It came down with every claw out.
Before the dragon reached Tara, a worn out and out of breath Faith jumped on it with her daggers pointing forward. Faith furiously hit it on its side, where she had hit it before.
"Get up Blondie! Push off here!"
Tara tried to get up and winced at her painful ankle.
"Push off Blondie!" Faith yelled as the dragon tried to turn around.
But despite her wounds, the Slayer managed to stay out of its reach and went on stabbing furiously the demon. Blood at last spurted out and the brunette's face was covered with the demon's blood.
Finally, it seemed to weaken a little. He gave a sudden flutter and rose in the sky. Faith immediately jumped beside Tara.
"I twi-twisted my ankle"
Faith rolled her eyes. She looked up and saw the dragon slowly going down toward them.
"We have to move Blondie"
Without letting her time to answer, Faith came closer and put her arm around her waist.
"Lean on me, let's go"
"F-Faith, we won't go f-far th-that wa-way. You c-can't ca-carry me…"
"Shut up" Faith interrupted. "Let's go"
They started to walk but they were moving too slow.
"Move Blondie. We have to move"
Faith dragged Tara along but the dragon was already near them. Faith was watching its progress and as the monster jumped on them, Faith pushed Tara aside and turned weapons in hands.
"Hide behind that rock Blondie!" She yelled, gesturing to the aforementioned rock. "Hide!"
Tara turned where Faith had pointed. She looked then at Faith fighting with the dragon again. The Slayer had some trouble to handle the demon as she was watching what the blonde was doing.
"Hide Blondie!" She yelled again.
Tara finally crawled behind the rock Faith had showed. The dragon's tail came crashing down at the precise place the witch was an instant before as she pushed on her arms in a desperate effort to shelter. Tara could feel the vibration of the blow behind her and let escape the breath she was holding.
There was a slight slope behind the rock and grass was damp. The witch was dragged by her impulse and slid head first along the embankment. She tried to catch hold on something but found nothing to grab. She found herself a few meters lower and was happy to notice she was unharmed. She sighed again in relief.
Then yelled in horror when she looked up.
Right before her eyes was a man's corpse. Tara abruptly stood and despite herself found herself sitting.
Out of breath and open wide-eyes, the witch looked over it without coming too much closer. The man was probably in his mid-thirty. He was lying on his back with his eyes closed. One of his arms was lying along his body when the other was on his chest and his hand was clasping firmly something hanging from his neck. Tara craned her neck to try to see what it was then turned her had on her left. There was a white glimmer behind the corpse.
Tara carefully came closer and her eyes opened wide in surprise and horror. The glimmer came from a gaping hole. It was narrow and around two meters long. The light seemed to drift above the ground around the fault whose bottom couldn't be seen. Only deep darkness could be perceived as soon as the eye penetrated in the ground. Tara immediately felt uneasy as a wicked atmosphere surrounded her.
She noticed inscriptions on a rock near the hollow. She got closer to read them. They were written in Latin and the blonde had to deeply search in her memory to try to understand.
"F-Faith!" She called out.
Tara turned around toward the direction she had come from. She could hear Faith fighting with the demon a few meters higher.
"Faith!" She shouted louder. "Faith! Come on here!"
A few seconds later, Faith raced down the slope in her turn. The Slayer was covered in blood and her face and arms were swollen.
"What?" Faith exclaimed as she alternately looked between the blonde and above her shoulder.
"Look" Tara said pointing first to the corpse, then to the fault behind him.
"Oh God" Faith said and stood up with her eyes glued to the white glimmer. "What's this?"
"I think it's where our dragon came from" Tara said.
Faith frowned and looked at the blonde with a questioning look.
"It's a hellmouth" Tara added, pointing to the inscriptions in the rock. "Sort of"
"Hellmouth ? " Faith asked.
"It's written here. Looks like a sp-spell opened it recently" the blonde explained. "Maybe it's him" she added, pointing to the corpse beside them.
The dragon appeared at that precise moment above their heads. Faith tightened her grip around her dagger.
"D'you think you can do something for this?" Faith asked.
"Wh-what?" Tara asked, panic rising in her voice.
"A spell?" Faith specified. "Can you do a spell to close this?"
"Yeah. A spell. You did a spell to prevent that demon to roast us right?"
"But… I-I don't know. I th-think it's wri-written ho-how to…"
With this, Faith turned round to fight the demon once again. It put her to the ground and Tara opened terrified eyes when she saw the Slayer driven against the ground and trying to defend herself. Seeing Faith was manhandled, Tara rushed to the inscriptions beside the hellmouth.
The witch quickly read them again then turned to the corpse. She crawled to him and loosened the fingers' grip from the locket they held. Tara recognized it. A wizard symbol. Tara tore it out from the man's neck and came back to the inscriptions.
She turned again to Faith. The Slayer had managed to get free from the demon but was still in difficulty. She had to do something fast. Really fast.
She slipped the backpack off her back and feverishly searched for her plastic bag. She shakily pulled a phial out and poured its content on the inscriptions. Then she read them out loud, stressing each syllable as she had been taught so long ago. She read them once, twice, three times.
And at last, the glimmer above the fault became brighter, more sparkling. Tara blinked to the dazzling light and had to plug her ears as a piercing whistling seemed to come out from the depths of the earth. She stumbled back and turned to Faith. The Slayer too had stopped every move and dropped her weapons to plug her ears. The demon was motionless and yelled as a powerful wind was blowing and dragging it toward the fault. Tara lied flat on the ground and closed her eyes.
Wind and noise ceased several dozens of seconds later. Tara opened her eyes again. The glimmer had gone out. The fault and the demon had disappeared.
A few feet across from her, Faith stood up with difficulty and came strongly limping toward her. Her clothes were torn, her body was covered in blood and she had a hard time just to stand.
"Good job Blondie" she simply said, pointing to where the fault had been. "You sent that demon back where he came from and closed that hole. Good"
Tara nodded and looked again at the fault's site. There was no trace left.
"See? Looks like it's coming back to you!" Faith said.
Tara nodded again.
"Are-are you o-okay?"
Faith sniggered and pointed to herself.
"Five by five Blondie. Can't you see that?"
"Okay" Tara admitted. "That was a stupid question"
Faith then held out her hand to her.
"What do you think of coming back? I think we can use some rest"
Tara grabbed the hand and let Faith pull her to her feet.
"I'm drea-dreaming about a bed" the blonde said.
"Well, I think I agree with you for once"
Faith opened the motel's door and dropped her bag to the ground almost immediately. The room was simple, just as those they were used to frequent. A dresser, a middle-sized bed, a washbasin, a chair.
The Slayer came slowly in the room, almost staggered to reach the bed where she let herself fall with a relieved sigh.
Tara was closely following her and she looked as tired as her companion. She closed the door behind her, looked over the room and stood still there.
Faith got up again when she saw her standing still and vaguely gestured behind her.
"You should go to sleep Blondie, day was pretty hard" she said. "I'll make a stop to the bathroom"
She searched for something in the bag, took a pair of boxers and a tee shirt out. Tara looked at her exiting the room again limping.
When she came back a few minutes later, she found Tara in pajamas sitting cross-legged on the bed.
Faith grabbed her sleeping bag and threw it to the ground near the bed. Then she sat on the ground coming down slowly along the wall.
"Still hurting?" Tara asked.
Faith vaguely nodded.
"Yeah. But it's nothing to worry about. With my Slayer healing and stuff, I'll be five by five again by tomorrow"
Silence fell over the room. Faith looked for something around her and rolled her eyes when she noticed she had forgotten her cigarettes in her jeans on the chair. Tara probably noticed 'cause she followed her gaze.
"Do y-you n-need so-something?"
"Yeah. Wanna smoke. I let my cigarettes in my pants"
She was about to lean on the wall behind to her to get up but was surprised to see Tara crawling to the bottom of the bed and hold her hand to her jeans where she grabbed the cigarettes and the lighter.
She then came back to Faith and gave them to her.
"You don't mind?" she asked.
"N-no" Tara answered, shaking her head.
Faith lit her cigarette and carefully leant back again the wall glancing at Tara out of the corner of her eye. She puffed several times on her cigarette as the witch distractedly played with the blanket between her fingers.
"So?" Faith asked after a rather long silence. "How d'you feel"?
Tara looked to her and considered her with surprise.
"How'd you feel?" Faith repeated. "Day was pretty hard. Last night too"
She stared at Tara's blue eyes and the witch looked down. Her fingers nervously fidgeted with the blanket.
"It's weird you know…" she said in a low voice. "Tal-talking about all this… Tal-talking that much…"
"I'm pretty sure you said more words tonight than you did in weeks!" she said in a cheerful tone.
Tara didn't answer and both girls remained silent for minutes before Faith resumed:
"I think it's good you talked. Well, I guess"
She thoughtfully nodded and looked at Tara who was still staring at the blanket under her fingers.
"How's your ankle?" she added quickly.
Tara looked up this time then looked at her injured ankle.
"I'll be fine" she said. "In some days I think"
She was about to add something but finally kept quiet for some more seconds. She remained thoughtful, as Faith was finishing off her cigarette.
"It's weird you know…" she explained suddenly looking at her hands again. "I feel like… not long before yesterday, all I wanted was to be dead…"
She paused then looked up to face Faith.
"And today, I was fighting for my life like it was important. Like I wanted to live. Like I care to live"
"Maybe…" Faith replied looking at the blonde in the face. "Maybe it's just because you do wanna live? Maybe your love for life is stronger than you thought. Stronger than you can think right now"
Tara considered Faith with some surprise and Faith smiled despite herself, happy in some way to surprise the blonde.
"You should sleep Blondie" she said. "You look scary"
Tara nodded and slipped between the sheets. Then she watched the Slayer a long time while she was trying to settle meticulously in her sleeping bag not to suffer from her wounds. She winced when her shoulder hit the ground.
"'Night Blondie" she simply said before closing her eyes with a wince of pain.
Tara didn't answer at fist and went on looking at the wincing Slayer as she was looking for a good position to sleep. After long minutes of internal debate, the witch reached a decision.
"Faith…" she said.
The Slayer opened her eyes again and looked at her with an annoyed look on her face.
"What?" she asked.
"May-maybe you cou-could co-come and sleep in the b-bed?" she suggested.
Faith looked at her for a second then shrugged.
"It's okay Blondie" she grumbled. "Rather me than you on that wonderful bed!" she added pointing to the ground and her sleeping bag.
"No" Tara interrupted. "I mean you c-could sleep in the bed wi-with m-me. It's big enough f-for b-both of us"
Faith stared at her in silence then looked over the bed as to check if Tara was telling the truth.
She shrugged and was about to refuse but changed her mind when she felt the hard ground under her hips as she was turning round to the witch.
"Bed's big enough uh?" she asked.
Tara nodded and put the blankets aside for the Slayer.
Faith carefully got up and felt like this simple gesture took her an eternity.
"I think I can use a good bed for once" she said as she settled carefully in the bed.
The mattress creaked under her and Faith smiled as she felt the softness of the mattress and the warmth of the blankets. She put the blanket back over her then lied on her back on the right edge of the bed.
"'Night Blondie" she repeated.
Tara nodded then banned herself at the other side of the bed.
"Good night Faith"
Then the witch turned her back to the Slayer and closed her eyes.
A few minutes later, they were both sleeping.
End of "Alone in the dark"
To be continued in "Mirror, mirror"
Please tell me what you think about the episode.