Dark stairs again. Faith was exactly where Tara had left her last time. Checking out names on the doors on the third floor.
Tara vaguely thought there probably was something important in here. But she was still shaken by the scene she just witnessed and was not really paying attention at what Faith was currently doing.
It took her minutes to make the terrifying screaming in her head fade away and to focus on the current Faith.
"Where are we?" she asked, finally finding her voice.
Faith did not appear to register Tara's question and shrugged angrily at the name above the doorbell in front of her, this one obviously not being what she expected.
"Fuck," she growled and Tara almost jumped upon hearing her voice. "Still not this one."
Then, she climbed the steps once more, but taking them two at a time now. Before Tara actually realised, the Slayer was already on the next floor.
Tara considered the new flight of steps and rolled her eyes.
"Who would have thought it would be so tiring to get into someone's head?" she mumbled.
Next stop, Tara almost thought she recognized the place she ended up this time. A motel room. A crappy motel room like the ones they had been sharing for months. Dirty white walls. Spare furniture. A television set so old that Tara thought it might be here just to decorate the room and made it feel less empty. She wondered if she recalled that particular room or not when a door in the room opened, making Tara jump slightly. She turned around to saw Faith exiting the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her shoulders, wearing a pair of black shorts and a white tank top. She was not the Faith Tara knew but a younger Faith. Her hair was shorter, her face more juvenile. She appeared to be a little tired and had a bad cut on her left forearm, but apart from this, she looked rather healthy.
She slumped on the bed and reached to the bedside table where she grabbed a piece of absorbent cotton and a bottle of disinfectant. She painted her cut with it then tried to bandage the wound with her other hand. The task was not very easy and Faith had a hard time with it. After a short time trying silently and carefully, the Slayer started to show signs of impatience and to bitch under her breath loud enough for Tara to hear.
"Damn fucking thingie! Y'know I'm gonna win in the end?"
It took minutes for Faith to succeed. When she was finally done, she threw the remaining bandage back to the bedside table and leaned against the wall behind her. She remained still for a few seconds, then leaned over the floor and rummaged beside the bed. When she sat up, she held a few comic books in her good hand. She opened one on her knees and skimmed through it absent-mindedly but she was obviously distracted. She closed it quickly and opened another one. And then a third one. But none of her comics seemed to be able to satisfy her. Tara felt the slayer was agitated and angry. But the reason of her anger remained unclear.
Not for long.
"Damn Buffy! It's all her fault!" grumbled Faith out loud, slamming her fifth comic book. "All the time with her precious Scooby gang! Why would she care about the second-rate Slayer when she's the one in charge?"
She took back a comic, flipping though the pages without even glancing at them.
"New slayer in town, two slayers at the same time for the first time in history, you'd think the girl'd be interested!" Faith went on her rambling. "But no! Not a damn for the other slayer! Cuddling with her vampire is so more interesting!"
She threw the comic away once more, a sullen look on her face.
"Fuck!" she exclaimed after a few seconds of silence.
She grabbed the remote control on the bedside table and switched the TV on. The Sunnydale news appeared on the screen, the image somehow blurred and deformed. Faith grimaced and flicked to another channel, then to another and another, never finding something pleasant enough for her taste. She came back to the news and tossed the remote control away. She crossed her arms over her chest and remained still on the bed, not really watching the TV, thousands thoughts obviously playing on her mind.
Minutes went by before someone knocked at the door. Faith jumped literally from her bed and went to open. The door revealed a pizza delivery boy.
His cheeks reddened a little when he took sight of the brunette and he started to speak twice before finally getting his sentence out.
"Hey m'dam, here the pizzas you ordered," he announced, handing her two large pizza boxes.
Faith seized them and put them on the bed.
"It's thirty-two dollars m'dam," the boy added, not putting his eyes off her.
Faith looked around, grabbed her jeans on the floor and rummaged through the pockets. She got a few bucks out but Tara knew at first glance there was not thirty dollars there. Faith glanced at the door where the boy was waiting and grimaced.
She rummaged through her jackets' pockets as well but found nothing more. She sighed and went back to the door.
"I'm sorry cutie," she started, her most beautiful smile plastered on her face. "But I'm kinda short of cash right now. Hum… I'll pay you tomorrow, okay?"
The boy looked embarrassed as Faith addressed him what was probably her most pleading look.
"Well, " he started hesitantly. "I'm not sure I can… Y'know, my boss won't be happy and…"
"Please…" Faith pleaded, stepping closer until she almost touched him. "I keep ordering pizzas. You like it when I order pizzas, don't you?"
"Well…" he went on, more and more embarrassed. "That's pretty much the point… I can't… you know… not make you pay every time…"
Faith nodded in understanding and got even closer.
"I get it. I promise I'll have the cash tomorrow. Please."
She batted her eyes and added a charming smile and put her hand on the boy's left hip. He jumped slightly at the contact.
"'Got others orders to deliver," he said quickly. "I'll come back tomorrow then."
"Cool," Faith said, a forced smile widening on her face. "See you tomorrow then."
He nodded, turned on her heels and went away. Faith slammed the door when he was out of sight and leaned on the pane, her smile now disappeared. She sighed deeply and remained there for a brief moment.
"Lucky me I'm still good…" she mumbled for herself.
She glanced at the pizzas on her bed and had a little smile.
"Let's go eating now."
The décor shifted once more and Tara refrained herself from crying out when she took sight of the person facing Faith in the office where she now stood.
Tara had nearly forgotten that her girlfriend had once been so young. Had once looked so juvenile, innocent and sweet.
Faith on the other hand, did not look innocent at all, though she looked a lot younger than the Faith Tara knew. She and Willow faced each other in a quite dark office. Books were scattered on the floor, opened, as someone had been interrupted reading them.
"Anyone with brains, anyone who knew what was going to happen to her, would try to claw her way out of this place. But you, you just can't stop Nancy Drew-ing, can you? Guess now you know too much and that kinda just naturally leads to killing." Faith was telling Willow in a chilling voice, and Tara could not help herself but wince at the slayer's tone and smiled fondly at the same time at Willow's silly behavior there.
"Faith, wait. I want to talk to you." Willow answered in an almost pleading tone.
"Oh yeah? Give me the speech again, please. Faith, we're still your friends. We can help you. It's not too late." The brunette replied sarcastically.
A smile crept its way to Willow's lips and her response was not something either Faith or Tara expected.
"It's way too late." She said, and she sounded terribly confident for someone Faith could kill any minute. "You know, it didn't have to be this way. But you made your choice. I know you had a tough life. I know that some people think you had a lot of bad breaks. Well, boo hoo! Poor you."
Tara's eyes opened wide and the blonde arched an eyebrow. She just could not believe what she was witnessing and hearing.
"You know, you had a lot more in your life than some people." Willow went on as Faith's smile had vanished off her face. "I mean, you had friends in your life like Buffy. Now you have no one. You were a Slayer and now you're nothing. You're just a big selfish, worthless waste."
The read-head delivered the last part with an evident pleasure, any trace of fear replaced with the satisfaction to hurt Faith.
'You're just a big selfish, worthless waste'. Worthless waste. The words sounded strangely familiar. As Tara felt Faith's anger rising, she looked at how Willow looked satisfied with herself. The blonde had learned the hard way that Willow was not only able, but really good, at hurting people. She realized it had never occurred to her that the redhead could be so mean before they met. That it had not begun with her or with the magic.
She tore her gaze off Willow to look at Faith's blank expression. The hurt was obvious on the Slayer's face though she tried her best to hide it. But Tara felt her rage and hatred boiling in her veins like a poison. Tara thought her reaction would probably be terrible and could not help but worrying for Willow, even if some part of her somewhat felt sorry for Faith at the same time.
But she did not get to see what happened next. The scene blurred and disappeared before any of the protagonists made another move.
Tara blinked. And everything around her was different.
She was now in a cemetery at night. Just at her direct left, a younger Giles was sitting on a rock bench, a note pad on his left leg crossed over his right one, a glass of tea in his hand. A thermos bottle stood on the bench right beside him. He was obviously having a good time as told the smile on his lips as, in front of Tara, Buffy and Faith gave each other a high five in celebration, both of them holding a stake in their free hand.
"Synchronized slaying," Buffy said.
"New Olympic category?" Faith replied with a genuine smile.
And with that, the Slayers vanished from Tara's sight.
They were back in a very different situation at Tara's next blink.
They were now on a terrace. It was night. A very mild and clear night.
The slayers were fighting, bonded together by a pair of handcuffs. It was a very intense and brutal fight.
"What's the matter? All that killing and you afraid to die?" Buffy questioned angrily.
Faith managed to snap the handcuffs and grabbed a length of a pipe to face Buffy. The blonde pulled out a knife. A very big knife.
"That's mine." Faith claimed.
"You're about to get it back." Buffy answered darkly.
They exchanged new blows, Faith dodging the knife, until reaching the edge of the terrace.
"Man, I'm going to miss this." Faith smirked as she got hold of Buffy.
There was a fleeting moment during which the slayers stared at each other and Tara wondered how this would end.
Then, Buffy broke suddenly Faith's grip and plunged the knife into the dark-haired slayer's abdomen. Faith looked stunned for a moment and Tara felt her immense surprise filling her.
"You did it…" she whispered weakly the second after, a light smile playing on her lips.
"You killed me." She added and pushed Buffy away from her with a punch.
She made the better of what strength left she had and climbed on the wall at the edge of the terrace behind her. She glanced under her before looking back at Buffy.
"Still won't help your boy, though. Shoulda been there, B, quite a ride."
She fell backward off the wall before Buffy could make a move. Her eyes closed and Tara felt the world spinning and vanishing around her.
She was not quite sure she had arrived somewhere to be seen when the falling sensation stopped. She could not see a thing and before she could focus on her surroundings, she heard Faith's voice screaming as loud as she could:
"Everybody get down!"
She felt fear around her and this was over before she knew it.
"No, Faith, no!"
Buffy's anguished voice welcomed Tara next. She found herself next to both Slayers, each of them staring at a man sitting on the ground, his back against a garbage can, blood pouring from his mouth. He raised his hand at Buffy who was kneeling beside him, and tried to say something. A step back from them stood Faith. The brunette held a bloodied stake in her right hand and looked as if lightning had just stricken her. She was unable to say a word, unable to move a muscle, unable to believe what had just happened.
Tara felt almost dizzy at how Faith's emotions were running high and filling her. She held her hand toward Faith to try to comfort the dark-haired slayer without even thinking about it. But before she actually touched her shoulder, the scene disappeared again.
A new one appeared in front of her but Tara had just time to catch sight of Buffy and Faith walking casually in a street before the scene was replaced with another one she perfectly remembered.
"He w-w-w-w-what? You gonna get that sentence out sometime tonight?" mocked a fake Buffy to a younger Tara.
Current Tara felt the hurt again but she did not have time to reflect more about it as the Bronze disappeared too to let its place to a quick flash of Buffy and Faith fighting again.
Then came another flash. And then another. And another. And another. All appearing quickly in front of Tara's eyes just to disappear the second after:
Kid Faith grinning at her mother before jumping from a rock into water. Kid Faith backing against a wall with a terrified look on her face as a threatening shadow loomed over her. Teen Faith kissing a boy Tara couldn't quite see in a dark room. Faith fighting. Faith leaning against a wall in a prison yard. Faith and Buffy standing face to face in a graveyard just before Buffy punched the brunette's face. Riley and Faith in bed when Faith was in Buffy's body. Faith fighting. Faith talking to Kennedy and another girl Tara had never seen in Revello Drive's kitchen. Faith dancing. Faith running. Faith fighting. Faith and Buffy arm-in-arm in Sunnydale's High library, all smiles talking to Willow, Xander, Oz and a girl Tara recognized as Cordelia. Kid Faith looking up slowly from her plate as she's eating. Faith walking alone in the streets of Sunnydale. Kid Faith crying. Faith fighting. Faith lying in a bed, holding the scythe. Faith crying. Faith fighting. Buffy stabbing Faith. Faith staking Allan Finch. Faith fighting. Tara slapping Faith under Riley and Sam's bewildered stare. Faith playing soccer with Leo in the backyard. Faith fighting.
"Faith! Stop that!" suddenly screamed Tara at the top of her lungs.
The blonde was feeling dizzy at the whirl of images she was witnessing. She tried to concentrate on each of them and to make sense of what she was seeing, trying to link each of these events together to understand what to do next. But the images unfolded quicker and quicker and Tara was about to lose her focus in this motley mix of colors and feelings.
"Faith! Stop!" She repeated, nearly out of breath. "This must mean something. Show me what!"
As she had just found the "stop" button of the remote control, the images stopped suddenly to be replaced by a total blackness. Tara sighed with relief first, then carefully looked around her to see where she had arrived. But she could not see the slightest thing. Concentrating all her attention, she finally heard the low sound of someone softly crying, not too far from her.
"Faith?" she gently asked. "Is that you?"
She did not get an answer and the scene vanished in a white and dazzling flash of light.
And there were the dark stairs again. Faith was now on the fourth floor, standing in front of a door and Tara knew somehow that the Slayer had found what she had been searching. Her fist rose, ready to knock at the door.
Tara felt a pang of conflict playing at Faith's heart. A discreet, slight pang of conflict. But it was there.
And Faith's hand came back to her side without having done anything.
The moment after, Tara found herself in a nice apartment bathed in the sweet light of the end of the afternoon. Faith was there, facing a man much older than her whom Tara recognized as being mayor Wilkins. The blonde could not help but chuckle when she saw Faith wearing a pink and white summer dress that made her look so… different. And she obviously did not like it at all.
"I feel I look stupid in this." Faith grumbled, uneasy.
"You look lovely." The mayor disagreed. "Perfect for the Ascension. Any boys that manage to survive will be lining up to ask you out."
"It just isn't me, though." Protested Faith without looking at the mayor and playing with the collar of her dress.
"Not you?" the mayor resumed surprisingly.
He got up and came to her.
"Let me tell you something. Nobody knows what you are. Not even you, little Miss Seen-it-all. The Ascension isn't just my day. It's yours too. Your day to blossom, to show the world what a powerful girl you are. I think of what you've done, what I know you will do"
He gently caressed her cheek and a strange feeling seized Tara.
"No father could be prouder."
Tara found herself back to Faith's side on the fourth floor, in front of a closed door. She tried to read the name on the doorbell but it was too dark for her to succeed.
Faith's fist rose once more to the door and she knocked this time. She waited for a few seconds and as no answer came, she knocked again, more resolutely. Tara turned to her to get a better view of the Slayer but the scene flashed again. Tara jumped when she saw Kakistos again, evilly laughing at a terrified Faith. It did not last though, and was soon replaced with a fight scene of Buffy and Faith taking place in a church.
"You're nothing! You murderous bitch!" was screaming Faith in Buffy's body while punching her counterpart with rage.
The scene flashed again and Tara could not quite exactly see what appeared in front of her as it disappeared too quickly, and she eventually came back in front of the door where Faith was knocking for the third time.
The door finally opened and a man appeared in the doorway, revealing a rather dim apartment in his back. He was balding, wore glasses, a white striped shirt and a brown cardigan and sported a bow tie. He was obviously out of fashion.
Tara wasn't surprised to hear how Faith called him.
"Hi, I'm looking for Professor Wirth."
"Oh, well, that's me, but I should ask you to come back during office hours. Students generally make an appointment," the man answered pointedly.
"Uh, I'm not from the college. I work for Mayor Wilkins. I'm Faith." The slayer replied and something in her voice, in her rising confidence and resolve made Tara's blood run cold.
A pleased smiled appeared on the man's face and he gestured for her to come in.
"Oh, well, come in, please. I was so surprised when he called." He said in the meantime. "Didn't expect a politician to be interested in my research."
"He's big fan professor," Faith informed.
"Oh, Lester's fine." The man replied with a warming smile.
"We alone here, Lester?" Faith asked, as she followed him inside the apartment.
Slight surprise at the question played on his face as he answered.
"Well, yes. Lifelong bachelor. I like my space."
"I hear that." Faith answered while looking around her.
She then all naturally produced a knife from her jacket and casually told the professor:
"You want to turn and face the wall, Lester."
The man's eyes widened in surprise as he saw the weapon and he looked between it and Faith's face once or twice before asking:
"What are you doing? "
"I'll make it quick." Faith promised.
"Put that away. I'll scream. " Tried the professor.
"Who wouldn't? " Faith replied in a chilling tone.
"Please. " He begged, slightly stepping back.
"Sorry, friend," Faith lazily apologized. "Boss wants you dead."
Faith closed the remaining distance between her and her victim, and without a second thought, she stabbed him, so wildly that Tara let escape an horrified scream.
"You know, I never thought to ask." Faith replied the professor's last question.
The man's eyes stared at Faith with a glimmer of incomprehension and surprise. He tried to say something but it was too much for him and his body collapsed a little. Faith then took her blade out sharply and the professor slid down the wall before falling flat on the floor. The Slayer remained some time motionless, staring at her victim with a blank look, still holding firmly her knife in her right hand. After several minutes, Faith bent down to kneel beside the professor's body, and doing so, she put her foot into the blood pool forming there. She did not appear to notice and she quickly put her hand to the man's neck to check if he was dead. Then she seized the professor's cardigan and quickly wiped the blood of the blade of her knife with the cloth. She then turned it several times between her fingers to check if it was perfectly clean and wiped it a second time. When she was finally satisfied, she put the weapon back in her jacket. She stood back up, and as she was about to get out, she cast a glance around the room and her eyes met Tara's. The blonde stood a few feet from her and looked at her, livid, her hands in front of her mouth, her face horrified.
Tara wanted to say something but the words choked in her mouth and it appeared that she could not move any muscle of her body. They stared at each other for a moment that seemed to last an eternity to Tara but probably did not last more than a few seconds. Faith eventually broke the uneasy silence:
"What?" she spat with such aggressiveness that Tara jumped in fear at the outburst and stepped back. "You knew about it, didn't you?"
The blonde searched for her words to answer but met no more success than previously. Anyway, Faith did not wait for her answer. She turned on her heels and left the appartment without even glancing at professor Wirth's lifeless body.
The motel room was silent and unmoving; the candles were burning their ends. Tara slowly opened her eyes and breathed in relief when she noticed she was back in the real world. She glanced at Faith, still laying in front of her and slowly released her palm with a grimace, disappointed the slayer was still unconscious.
But her disappointment did not last. Just as Faith's palm lay back on the bed, the brunette's eyes suddenly burst opened and she sat up so abruptly that Tara jumped back and almost fell of the bed. She caught her breath and watched the slayer carefully while sitting back in front of her. Faith looked slightly bewildered but the light was back in her dark eyes.
"Goddess, you're back!" the blonde exclaimed in a trembling voice. "I thought I…"
Her throat constricted with emotion and she fell silent.
Faith looked at her blankly for a moment, then, as something had suddenly clicked in her mind, she briskly jumped of the bed, standing in a fighting stance, her eyes blazing. Startled, Tara nearly fell of the bed once more.
"Where's that bitch?" Faith growled, looking around, as waiting for Kira to appear.
She did not give Tara time to answer and repeated in a harsh voice:
"Where is she? What happened?"
"Sh-she's go-gone…" Tara replied, hesitantly, now slightly afraid by the anger she could see in the slayer's eyes. "She p-put a spell on you and flew a-way."
Faith's stance loosened a bit but she stared coldly at Tara.
"What kind of spell?" she asked briskly.
"A mind-spell," Tara carefully explained. "I reversed it. You're okay now."
Faith looked away and Tara held back her breath for a second, worrying about Faith's next move or outburst.
But Faith did not pay her any more attention. She considered herself, then gathered her clothes and dressed hastily in silence. Then, she grabbed some weapons and headed for the door.
"What are you doing?" Tara asked.
"Gonna see if I can find her," Faith darkly answered.
"Faith, you won't find her, she's gone. Plus, if you do find her, she's dangerous and…"
But Faith was not listening and the door slammed before Tara finished her sentence.
When she came back, hours later, the room was tidy and clean. There was no more clothes scattered all around and a sweet perfume could be smelt. Faith noticed several plates arranged on the dresser and the table as well. Tara was sitting on the perfectly made bed, reading a book.
She looked up from her reading when Faith entered and smiled shyly at the brunette. Faith tossed her jacket on the bed and went to the dresser to examine the plates that were not there when she had left sooner.
"What's this?" she curtly asked.
"Mrs. Applefresh dropped in a short while ago to check on us. She cooked those for us. Figured we would starve after the spell." Tara explained softly.
Faith nodded slightly and went back to discover all the pies and tarts the bookshop owner had cooked for them.
"Looks nice," she commented.
"Yes, she has been nice to me. To us." Tara replied.
She got up and went to the dresser with Faith.
"I already cut some of them," Tara explained. "What do you want to start with? Leek pie?" she gestured to one of the pie and grabbed a plastic plate where she served Faith a huge piece of pie.
Faith nodded and a mischievous grin appeared on her lips.
"That'll be good, but I could use some meat or something y'know,"
Tara smiled back and added a piece of quiche Lorraine with the leek pie one.
"That'll be a start," Faith approved, seizing the plate Tara handed her. "Thanks,"
She headed to the bed and plopped down heavily on the mattress, her plate and a fork in hands. She started to eat eagerly and did not look up from her plate when Tara met her on the bed with her own plate. The blonde started to eat as well, glancing from time to time at Faith, obviously searching for her words. She waited for Faith to overcome her plate and another one after.
"So," she finally started hesitantly as the slayer was cutting into her third plate. "What did you do?"
Faith looked up at Tara and a glimmer of surprise shone in her brown eyes.
"What?" she asked.
"You left pretty much a long time," Tara explained carefully. "I just wondered… You know…"
Faith shrugged and returned to her plate.
"Nothing big," she answered casually. "Walked the surroundings. Slay a few vampires. But I didn't find much. And no sign of this evil bitch."
She spat the last part bitterly, still avoiding Tara's eyes, cutting furiously pieces in her part of pie. Tara watched her doing so silently for a long moment. When Faith finally started to eat again, she leaned back against the wall, at the top of the bed.
"Faith," she began in a soft voice. "I didn't know you had a Watcher before you came to Sunnydale." She said, trying to choose her words carefully.
Faith's head jerked up and she stared at Tara with an unreadable expression for a brief second.
"Listen Blondie," she said coldly, trying to master the trembling in her voice. "You saw that crap, that's one thing. But it doesn't mean I wanna talk about it. We clear?"
She suddenly gave up her plate, got up and headed for the door.
"Listen Faith," Tara said hastily behind her, sitting up. "I'm sorry, I… I'm sorry. Okay?"
Faith turned to her and a forced light smile crept its way to her lips.
"Don't worry like that, Blondie," she answered, her tone now casual. "Just going to grab a shower. Missed it."
And with that, she went out of the room, leaving Tara alone.
The blonde watched her retreating back and the door closing and shrugged. She leaned back against the wall, sighed and closed her eyes.
It had been a very long day.
End of "Insights"
Pieces of dialogues taken from "Bad girls", "Revelations", "Choices", « Graduation day, part I »
To be continued in "Welcome to my own personal little hell"