Tara opened her eyes. She felt a little confused. Looking around, it took her a few seconds to realize where she was. She was in a corridor covered with mirrors.
She turned again to the one in front of her and saw her mirrored self walking and happily chatting with a girl she didn't know.
Tara watched it for a moment longer then finally looked away. She had walked along the corridor following her counterpart and was now alone.
"Faith?" she called tentatively.
The only thing she heard was her voice echoing in the labyrinth.
"Faith?" she shouted louder.
She waited a few seconds but didn't get an answer. She felt suddenly distressed to be alone. Tara turned back retrace her steps. When she reached the first intersection, she realized she had no idea where she had come from.
"Faith!" she called once more.
Her call resonated in the deserted corridors. When the sound faded away, the only reply was silence.
"Goddess," Tara sighed.
She tried to remember the spell to find someone lost but it wouldn't come back to her.
"She's probably not far," Tara said to herself. "I probably didn't walk for long…"
She took a few more steps then stopped at the next crossroad.
"But what if I keep moving away from her?" she mused.
"Faith!" she called again.
Tara waited for the echo to fade away and listened carefully for the Slayer's answer. The witch winced desperately when she made up her mind to accept Faith was not going to reply.
"Goddess…" she repeated.
She closed her eyes and tried to focus. Which way should she go? She hesitated. Her instinct told her left. Tara turned left.
"Faith!" she yelled.
She hurried down the corridor, glancing at the mirrors out of the corner of her eye. Here and there, she saw herself talking, laughing, smiling alone or surrounded with friends.
She stopped suddenly as she noticed a familiar smiling face.
Willow was beside one of her reflections. Tara got closer to that particular scene and inspected it closely. As she began to examine Willow's face, the picture faded to be replaced by her own figure walking out of a wide room…
Tara glanced at the room one last time with her hand on the switch. She was at the double doors of a big spare room where several mattresses were laying on the floor. Several girls were seemingly sleeping on each of them, covered only with thin blankets. They all had a variety of wounds. Arms, heads, ankles were covered with bandages. As one of the girls tossed in her bed, her blanket slid off and revealed that half of her left leg was missing.
Shelves full of medicine covered all the walls. The place appeared to be a makeshift infirmary.
Tara switched off the light and looked at her watch. Four in the morning. She sighed. She went out of the room and left the doors open. She turned to her right and followed a badly lighted narrow corridor up to some stairs. She went down the stairs and stopped at the next floor where she turned left into a new hallway.
The walls were dirty and gray. Drops of water were streaming along them. Dust and filth covered the uneven ground. It was dark as no light was illuminating the place.
Tara was groping her way forward slowly. The witch was pale and unusually skinny. Her clothes were dirty and dusty. She looked tired. She had dark rings under her eyes. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her body as if to protect her from the cold.
She looked relieved when she finally reached a door at the end of the corridor. She knocked lightly and entered without waiting for an answer. She carefully closed the door behind her. The room she entered was completely different from the hallway. In spite of its obvious austerity, it felt warm and welcoming.
A bed occupied the center of the room and was flanked by two tiny night tables. A small dresser was stuck against the left wall. In front of the bed, a small wooden table was covered with random objects. Two small paintings were hanging on the walls. Candles were burning on the dresser.
Tara's face softened as soon as the door was closed. She leaned against the doorframe for a second. A young redheaded woman – who was sitting on the bed – looked up from her book when she heard the noise of the latch.
"You okay baby?" Willow asked.
Tara gave her a hint of a smile and went toward the bed. She sat on the edge and took off her shoes. Then she crawled on the bed toward Willow. The redhead pulled her close and kissed the blonde when she was in her arms.
"How was the night baby?" she asked again.
"Not too bad," whispered Tara in a weak voice.
"That bad?" Willow questioned, concerned.
"No, no…" corrected Tara. "No one died tonight." She specified.
"Good," Willow said.
But she frowned when she felt Tara leaning into her arms and when she saw the blonde closing her eyes.
"What happened baby?" the redhead asked gently.
"Nothing particular," Tara replied. "It's Faith." She said after a pause.
"What about Faith?" Willow demanded.
"She's in a coma." The blonde answered.
Willow wrapped her arms around Tara's waist and pulled her closer.
"Baby…" she began carefully. "She was already in a coma yesterday, wasn't she?"
Tara nodded sadly and closed her eyes.
"It's not getting any better. She won't make it," she announced. "I know it this time. It's just a matter of time. A few days probably."
Willow kissed Tara's cheek tenderly.
"I'm sorry baby," she said. "I know you like her a lot."
Tara nodded and they remained silent for a few moments.
"You know…" Willow began cautiously. "When we lose Faith, one of the girls will be called to be the Slayer… It'll help Buffy. It'll help all of us. Maybe we'll find a way to defeat the First and…"
"Will," Tara interrupted. "I don't want to think about this right now. She's not dead yet."
Willow nodded and gave her an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry baby."
They fell silent for a few seconds, both of them deeply lost in thought.
"How's Kennedy?" Willow asked.
"She's doing better," Tara explained. "Well, she even asked me – I quote her here - 'when you'd come up with some kick-ass spell to grow her leg back'!"
The redhead couldn't help but smile.
"She's kidding about it. It's a good sign, isn't it?"
Tara nodded thoughtfully.
"She's tough," she said. "I do my best to ease her pain but it's not much."
"I know you do everything you can for the girls," Willow said softly. "I'm proud of you baby. We all are."
Tara shrugged, her eyes still lost in the distance.
"It's not enough," she stated.
Willow frowned with a contrite look on her face. She slid her hands under Tara's shirt and put them on her abdomen before kissing her cheek again.
"Let me relax you…" Willow said as she started massaging Tara's stomach.
Tara smiled slightly and settled down in her girlfriend's arms. A few minutes passed by in a complete silence.
"Why aren't you sleeping?" the blonde eventually asked. "It's late."
"I was waiting for you." Willow answered simply. "I can't sleep when you aren't here with me."
Tara turned her head to kiss Willow's cheek.
"What did you do all night long?" the blonde witch asked.
"I did some research," Willow replied in a defeated tone.
She pointed to the still open book by her side.
"Did you find something?" Tara asked quietly.
Willow shook her head and shrugged.
"I researched that idea of Buffy's," Willow explained.
"Empowering all the potentials?" Tara queried.
Willow nodded to confirm and sighed desperately.
"She's a fool," the redhead muttered.
"I think it's a good idea Will." Tara said.
"Going down into the hellmouth and counting on good ol' ex-magic-junkie Willow to make all the potentials into Slayers?" Willow asked ironically. "I knew better plans…"
"It's our only real chance to defeat the First's army."
"I won't ever be powerful enough…" moaned Willow.
"I'll help you sweetie," declared the blonde. "We'll figure something out together."
Tara turned her head to kiss her girlfriend. Willow relaxed immediately in the embrace.
"Hum…" the redhead said. "I feel so good with you."
"How good?" Tara whispered in Willow's ear.
"Hum…" the redhead repeated.
She grabbed Tara's waist and lay down, pulling the blonde beside her. Tara turned to her side to face her girlfriend. She wrapped her right arm around Willow's shoulder and pulled her in for a passionate kiss. When they finally parted, Tara simply caressed Willow's cheek with a tender smile on her face.
"I'm going to tell you how much I feel good with you," she breathed softly.
Willow pushed her face into Tara's caress and smiled back.
"Tell me baby," she said.
"I feel happy," Tara replied. "Even here and now. Even after a night watching over my dying best friend and a bunch of young girls variously injured. Even if I know we may never defeat the First. Even if everything could be over tomorrow. Being with you makes me happy."
She fell silent and bit her lip.
"Goddess, it's so selfish to be so happy when everyone else is not."
Willow smiled broadly and pulled Tara closer.
"It's not baby," she murmured. "I feel the same. We're the reason we're all still fighting."
She kissed Tara softly and pushed her gently aside to look her in the eye.
"You know that Buffy always says we're the main reason she's still trying to kick the First's ass." Willow stated seriously.
"Sending Dawn to college being another," Tara added with a crooked grin.
Willow smiled fondly at how adorable the blonde looked like and she pulled her close again.
"Goddess, what would I do without you?" she mused.
"Nothing good," replied Tara with a half smile.
"Hey!" protested an offended Willow.
Tara laughed at the redhead's pouting face and was about to reply but Willow silenced her with a kiss.
A few moments later, Tara was really close to making up for her offense.
Tara looked transfixed at the mirror in front of her. She held her hand to the cold surface and tried to get back the vision of herself and Willow in a not so wonderful world. She suddenly missed the redhead more than she could remember she ever had. She felt dizzy.
She was cold and wrapped her arms tightly around herself to try to get some warmth.
The cold was what decided her to move away from this reflection of a life with Willow. After a long last look at the image, she moved away from the mirror quickly. She tried not to look at her beaming mirrored selves and hurried along the hallways, looking only at her own feet.
"Faith!" she called.
She reached an intersection and looked desperately in each direction. Mirrors reflecting different Taras were all she could see.
"Faith!" she shouted in an anguished voice.
She turned right without thinking and hastened even more.
Again, she got no answer. Panic overwhelmed her.
"Goddess, goddess…" she whispered, tears threatening at the corner of her eyes.
"Faith! Where are you?"
Faith was standing still in the middle of one of the many corridors of the labyrinth. Her eyes were roaming over the different reflections of herself that surrounded her. She examined each one carefully, curious to discover each time a different scene, a different background, a different story, a different self.
She was fascinated to see herself as a student, as a daughter, as a friend, a girlfriend or a head Slayer.
Wherever or whenever she turned, new scenes came to replace the former ones. Thousands of possibilities kept coming in succession and Faith didn't seemed to grow tired of the show.
She nevertheless looked away when she thought she heard something. She pricked up her ears but there was nothing to hear anymore. She didn't move and just turned back to the mirrors.
How long had she run down the labyrinth's corridors? Minutes? Hours? Tara had no idea. All she knew was that she was alone with no idea how to get out of here or where to find Faith.
After covering what felt like miles to her, Tara froze when she caught sight of the Slayer at the bend in the hallway. It seemed to the witch that she was looking for the brunette for so long that she had somewhat lost hope to finally find her.
Faith was motionlessly fixating on the mirror in front of her with a light smile on her lips and she turned her head toward the witch when she appeared at the corner of her corridor.
Tara sighed, relieved and quickly closed the distance to the Slayer.
"Goddess, Faith, I finally found you." The witch said.
Faith turned to her with annoyance.
"Where have you been?" she asked. "I lost sight of you for a sec and then you weren't there anymore."
"There're unnatural things going on here," Tara explained.
"I bet!" Faith replied, rolling her eyes.
They fell silent for a second, and then Tara added:
"I saw…" she began to explain. "…strange things in the mirror. Well, it may sound weird but I kind of followed my reflection down the hallway…"
"Yeah." Faith said.
Her face brightened suddenly again.
"I saw myself like in hundreds of situations!" Faith told excitedly. "Look at this Blondie!"
Tara moved beside Faith and looked in the mirror the brunette was pointing to.
"What?" she asked.
In front of them, Tara could only see Faith grinning and showing the mirror while she was standing questioningly beside her.
"What?" she repeated.
"Don't you see?" Faith asked with a hint of annoyance in her voice. "See how cool I look in there!"
She gestured to the mirror where a laughing version of herself was animatedly talking with a bunch of fascinated younger Slayers.
"Don't you see?" Faith queried once more.
She turned to Tara and saw the blonde shaking her head.
"I'm-I'm so-sorry Faith," the witch explained. "I just see you and me. Just us."
Faith turned back to the mirror. And her smile vanished from her face. The vision that was there a second before had disappeared. But instead of being replaced by another one as Faith was now used to, all the Slayer could see was herself. Just herself. Her worn clothes, her tired eyes, her free hanging hair. The shadows on her face.
"What should I see?" Tara asked gently as she noticed the change in the Slayer's stance.
Faith didn't answer. She stared at her mirrored self blankly. She clenched her teeth and closed her fists.
"Faith?" Tara insisted softly. "Is something wrong?"
Faith remained silent. She was perfectly still, fixing straight on the looking glass. Her face was expressionless and Tara was totally unable to tell what Faith was thinking.
"Faith?" the witch tried again. "Is some…"
She closed her mouth when she saw Faith's look changing all of a sudden. Her expression went from blank to something looking like anger. Rage flashed in her eyes.
"I hate you!"
Tara jumped at the almost animalistic yell.
She glanced at Faith with trepidation. But the Slayer wasn't looking at her at all. All her attention was directed at her mirrored counterpart.
"I hate you!" Faith repeated.
She launched forward without warning and started to pound at the mirrors with all her strength. Tara watched the scene horrified.
"F-Faith…" she tried to reason with her. "F-Faith, ca-calm down."
But the Slayer wouldn't listen. The mirrors were beginning to break under her furious blows. Her fists and wrists were covered in blood. Long cracks appeared on the glass. Tara panicked when she saw they were spreading along the whole corridor.
"Faith!" she shouted. "Stop that! You're gonna hurt yourself! You're gonna destroy the labyrinth!"
But Faith didn't reply this time either. Nothing seemed able to stop her blinding rage.
"Faith!" yelped Tara as all the mirrors around them started to crack.
A loud crash echoed in the labyrinth, immediately followed by a loud rumble.
"Oh Goddess…" Tara whispered as the cracks multiplied.
The noise appeared to snap Faith out of her trance.
The Slayer stopped suddenly to strike the mirrors and looked around her. She realized what was happening and searched for an escape. There was none.
"Tara!" she cried. "C'mon! The labyrinth is gonna collapse!"
As Tara wasn't moving, Faith took the step separating the blonde from her and stood behind her. She wrapped her left arm around the witch's waist and put her right one on her shoulder.
"Get down!" she said.
The Slayer pushed on Tara's shoulder and the witch followed her order and bent down. Faith lay atop of her to protect her as the labyrinth was smashed into pieces. She put her arms over her head to try to protect herself as bits of glass rained down on them.
A few seconds later, Faith looked up as silence returned. The labyrinth had disappeared. It had crumpled to a pile of little pieces of glass. Faith stood up. She looked up at her bloody hands mechanically and remained staring at them for a few seconds.
Tara got to her feet in turn when she felt Faith moving away from her. Surprise painted on her face when she saw what was left of the labyrinth.
"Goddess…" she whispered.
"You okay Blondie?" Faith asked.
Tara nodded while brushing dust off her clothes.
Faith nodded absent-mindedly.
"It's time to go to bed." She said simply.
The motel room Faith and Tara shared that night was silent and dark. They had left the curtains open and the moonlight was the only source of light in the room.
Faith was sitting at the bottom of the bed and Tara was kneeling in front of her. The slayer had both her arms raised toward the witch. Tara was examining the numerous cuts on Faith's wrists and hands and trying to take care of them. Both of them looked exhausted.
"I'm fine Blondie," muttered Faith probably for the hundredth time in the last hour.
"I'm almost done Faith," Tara said. "Would you just stop fussing for a sec?"
"I'm not fussing," protested Faith.
But she nevertheless did as she was instructed and sat motionless. Tara cleansed Faith's wounds in silence for a few more minutes before the Slayer spoke up:
"So…" she began hesitantly. "What did you see in the labyrinth?"
Tara looked up in surprise. She hadn't expected Faith to talk about what had happened earlier at the fair.
"Well, I think I saw what could have been my life." Tara replied carefully. "If… if things had been different."
Faith didn't reply and looked obstinately at her hands. Tara waited a moment for the Slayer to talk. Seeing that nothing was coming, she asked:
"Was it the same for you?"
Faith nodded thoughtfully and finally asked:
"How was it?"
"What do you mean?" Tara queried, frowning.
"I mean, was it like puppies and cotton candy stuff or more of the nightmare sort?"
Tara considered the question very carefully and recalled what she had seen a few hours before.
"I was happy," she whispered quietly.
"Each time?" Faith pressed.
Tara thought about it then nodded.
"I think so," she said. "Well, there was even one vision I had where everything looked to go wrong but…"
Tara wavered as the scene came back to her mind.
"I remember that I was happy," she explained. "Even if the whole world had gone wrong, I was happy."
She fell silent and stopped taking care of Faith for a moment.
"It was the same for me." The Slayer stated suddenly. "I saw like hundreds or thousands of different things. And each time, I felt happy."
Faith looked down at her wrists that Tara was now bandaging.
"Each time." She repeated. "It was like…"
Her voice trailed off and her hands started to shake. Tara pretended not to notice and went on with her task.
"It was like?" she repeated gently.
"Like at each point in my life, something went wrong. Like everything I could have had had been stolen from me. Like each time I had a choice, I just made the wrong one."
She paused then added:
"I was better. Each single time." She stressed. "God, even if I had killed Buffy and stayed with the mayor, my life would have been better than it is."
"I could have been a better girl." Faith finished.
Tara offered her a poor smile.
"I get what you're saying." She breathed. "I kinda feel the same."
Faith looked up and stared curiously at her.
"What'd you mean?"
"Even in a world where the First wasn't defeated, where people were dying around me on a daily basis, I felt better. I felt loved and cherished."
Tara was the one to look down this time.
"And… all those other visions… It felt like everything has gone in the wrong direction… Or at least, has gone in a less good direction than possible…"
Silence fell again over the room. Tara finished working on Faith's hands and neither girl spoke during this time.
"It's done." Tara said finally.
Faith nodded and stared blankly at her bandaged wrists for a second before saying simply:
"You're welcome." Tara answered as she put away the first aid kit. "Time to go to sleep."
Faith got up and went to the window where she looked absent-mindedly outside for a moment.
"Well," the Slayer said after a silence. "I guess that gives us something in common, right?"
End of "Mirror, mirror"
To be continued in "Justice"
Please tell me what you thought about the episode