Spike's voice was flat and dull, like he was talking to a yappy puppy nipping at his leg.
Faith simply raised an eyebrow as she sauntered up to the ledge. 'Know how to make a girl feel welcome, don'tcha?'
She peered over the side at the building on the other side of the street.
Big place. Looked kinda like those old-style movie theatres or something. Been goin' downhill for a long time - fence out front all overgrown, boards on some of the windows, garbage in the front yard.
Dark-haired girl standing in front, looking up at it, dressed like somethin' outta "Dracula". Vamp, most likely.
'Old girlfriend?' Faith said, turning around, resting against the ledge, keeping out of Spike's arm range.
'Sod off. This don't concern you.'
Faith allowed herself a small grin. Struck close to home on that one. Let's see how this one does...
'So how's Dru doin' these days?'
'This. Don't. Concern. You.' Spike's vamp-face told her.
'Messy break-up, was it?' Faith leaned back. 'Been there, done that, picked myself up again. You should do that, find yourself some little vamp girl to settle down with.'
'Go to hell.' Spike said. 'You have *no* *soddin'* *clue* what she means to me.
'No clue. At all.
'And if you think I'm gonna get all gushy and "woe-is-me" on you, you've tuned into the wrong station. This ain't Jerry Springer, I'm no poofter, an' I'm sharing crapola with the Slayer, got that?'
'Sure.' Faith said. 'Be one for the Watcher Diaries, though. The Ike and Tina of the vampire world finally broke up.'
'That's Sid and Nancy. Get your bloody metaphors right.'
'I did.' Faith said, a wicked smile on her lips.
Spike turned to her again. 'Where /is/ your tweedboy, anyways? Can'ta been happy with you not staking the big bad Slayer killer.'
'Wouldn't *you* like to know?" Faith said.
Spike's eyes narrowed. 'Yeah. Matter of fact, I would. 'Cause from what I heard the other night, sounded like you and them were on the outs. Big falling out.'
'Difference of opinion.' Faith said, hands resting on the ledge. 'They thought I should go get killed in Sunnydale, and naturally enough, I didn't agree.
'So we agreed to disagree.
'Or rather, I said 'screw you' and walked out.'
A tiny grim smile appeared on Spike's face at that. 'Been wondering when one of you would get it. Think they know it all, but can't handle it when someone stands up to them.'
Faith returned the expression. 'Tell me 'bout it.'
On the street below, Dru lowered her head, and turned away.
'Huh. Sightseeing.' Faith observed.
'No it ain't.' Spike muttered. 'See you later.'
He stepped away from the ledge, breaking into a run as he headed for the next rooftop.
Only to find Faith keeping close on his heels.
'What part of "see you later" did you not get?' Spike demanded as they ran. 'We talked, we didn't kill each other, now bugger off!'
'Been a good night so far. You think I'm gonna let it end so soon?' Faith said as they jumped buildings.
'What? You still spoilin' for a fight?'
'Oh yeah.' Faith said. 'Just not yet. I figure there's somethin' up. Y'see, you should at least have tried killing me, bring my body to her as a sorta' "kiss-and-make-up" thing, only with more blood. I hear that was the sorta thing you used to do.
' 'Cept you didn't.'
'People change.' Spike said.
'Yeah? You haven't laid a finger on me. So what's going on?' Faith said. 'Lemme guess, somethin' to do with your messy break-up, right?'
'You might say that. Y'see, while killing you might make *me* feel better, I'm pretty damn sure Dru wouldn't.
'She don't need me anymore. Got a shiny clean human soul again.'
'WHAT?!' Faith demanded, screeching to a halt.
'You wanted to know, sweetheart. Don't blame me if you can't handle it. See ya around.'
With that, Spike leaped buildings again.
By the time Faith reached the edge, he was gone.
'Damn,' she said, shaking her head in rueful admiration. 'Damn, that was good.'
'G'way!' a muffled heap curled up in a bed mumbled.
'G'way, or I'm gonna blow your head off with my mind...'
'I'll get it, Dawnie.' Tara said, slipping her dressing gown on as she made her way to their apartment door.
'Hah.' Dawn muttered, covering her head with a pillow. 'Just don't wake me up again, got it?'
'Got it.' Tara said, smiling slightly.
She opened the door.
'Heya, T.' Faith said, pushing her way in past the startled witch. 'Thought I was gonna have to break the door down. Got anythin' to drink? Got a wicked thirst on me...'
'F-Faith?' Tara stammered. 'I-it's...' She glanced at the alarm clock. '2 am!!'
'That's the thing 'bout Slaying,' Faith said, plumping herself down in a chair and switching on the study light. 'Vamps don't keep sociable hours.'
Tara rubbed her eyes, sighed, and filled up a glass of water from the apartment's little sink.
Faith glanced at it as Tara handed it to her. 'That's it? That's /it/? You're a witch, and all you've got in the whole place is water? Why don'tcha just zap it inta somethin' stronger?'
Tara blinked. 'Because... w-well, I d-don't like relying on my m-magic. W-when you've g-got a-a hammer, every p-problem l-looks like a n-nail.'
'Huh.' Faith didn't look convinced, an expression Tara had seen on Dawn's face all too often.
Tara took the other chair, letting her body sink in. She'd had barely an hour of... not even sleep, just rest, before Faith had come knocking.
Not even that.
She saw that face in her mind again, heard the words.
"Where there is a Gate, there is a Key. And a Beast."
She shook herself. Later. You can think about it later.
'T?' Faith asked.
Tara shook herself. 'S-sorry. I-i'd j-just got in w-when you c-came.'
'Didn't interrupt too much, then.' Faith said. 'Right. Stop me if you've heard this one. I was tracking our favourite vampire - ' She glanced at Tara. 'That's Spike, for the barely-in-the-land-of-the-living - and caught up with him goin' all moony over his sire, lady name of Drusilla-'
Tara held up a hand.
'Yeah?' Faith said.
'S-she c-came into t-the bar t-tonight.' Tara told her. 'S-she...' She took a deep breath. 'S-she h-has a h-human s-soul.'
Faith stared at her. 'Yeah. Yeah, that's what Spike said, right before he took off after her. He wasn't putting you on?'
'I /s-saw/ her, F-faith. S-she h-has a s-soul.' Tara repeated.
Faith settled back into her chair. 'Hell. Puts a spanner in things, wouldn't ya say?' She shook her head, almost disbelievingly. 'Not even a spanner, the whole damn tool kit.'
'Mm.' Tara said. She didn't want to discuss Drusilla, not here, not now... but Faith wasn't about to give her the choice.
'So what's that mean? She's gotta soul again... which means what?' Faith asked. 'She's the kid she was 'fore she got turned?'
Tara thought back. 'I d-don't t-think so. I t-think it means... s-she's g-got a c-conscience. Or the c-capacity f-for one. B-but s-she s-still has her m-memories.'
'Huh. So what am I supposed to do? Let her off with time for good behaviour? She's a /vampire/-'
'A-and t-there's s-someone k-keeping an eye on her.' Tara said.
'Sure. And you think they can keep her in control? Trust me, T, having a soul don't make you a nice person, no matter what the books say.' Faith said. ' 'Sides, they ain't all that good if they're letting her wander around alone.'
'A-alone?' Tara said.
'Yeah. Hanging 'round this old place in Hollywood. Someone seriously let it go to shit, but there she is, mooning around like Garbo, then heads off for more vampy stuff, which is about when Spike drops his bombshell.'
'Y-You know G-Garbo?' Tara exclaimed.
Faith shrugged. 'What can I say? Nothin' else on the box that day. So... given all that, seems like it's worth checking out, right?'
'The old place.' Faith elaborated. 'Means /something/ to her, an' Spike seemed to click in too. So why not get him to open up tonight, huh?'
Tara thought about asking Spike about... anything, really. 'N-no. I d-don't think it'd b-be a g-good idea.'
' 'Kay, why don't *we* go check it out?' Faith offered.
'Hey, you're not backing out on me now, T, are ya?' Faith said. 'Not after alla that crap 'bout not lettin' me go into things alone?'
Tara saw the teasing expression in Faith's eyes... and the hint of something deeper, almost as if she /expected/ Tara to say no.
She shook her head. 'N-no. I-it's just... I h-haven't slept much t-this w-week. I n-need to c-catch up. I-i'm no good to y-you h-half-aw-wake.'
'Sure. Gotcha.' Faith said. 'I'll pop back when you're half-alive, 'kay?'
Tara nodded. 'W-what're you g-going t-to do?'
'Me?' Faith stretched. 'I figure I need to let off a little stress, take care of a few vamps. I don't do some Slaying, I'm no good to anyone.'
Tara opened her mouth.
'Yeah?' Faith said.
Tara shook her head. 'N-nothing. I-i'm just t-tired...'
'Need some z's?' Faith said. 'Right with ya. See ya in the morning.'
And before Tara could say anything more, she was gone.
Tara sighed, pulled herself upright, and headed for her bed.
She glanced at Dawn's bed.
'W-what d-do you think?'
'First off, I think we need to get a "Do Not Disturb" sign.' the muffled heap said. 'Second, I'm coming with you tomorrow.'
Tara considered. 'A-alright. B-but the f-first s-sign of anything-'
'Home. Right *then.*' the heap said. 'I know, I know...'
Tara allowed herself a small smile, all she could currently muster. 'Night, Dawnie.'
Maybe it would all be brighter in the morning, Tara told herself.
Spike had stomped back in just before sunrise, his mood absolutely foul.
Tara hadn't dared ask what had happened - but he'd come back *here*, rather than his cellar, which wasn't good.
Even Dawn had noticed - and for Dawn to notice, it would have been very, very bad indeed.
The two of them had tiptoed around him as quietly as they dared, before Tara had said they were going out for the day.
Spike had simply grunted, and plumped himself in front of the TV.
Tara had taken the opportunity to slip herself and Dawn out of the apartment, locking it behind her, and prayed none of her neighbours decided to knock on her door.
...well, she just had to hope that Faith's tracking skills could track humans as well as they could vampires.
She looked down at the bag of bagels in her hand. She'd have to make sure she ate regularly, she reminded herself. And brush up on her meditation.
'Oooh, breakfast.' Faith said, materialising out of nowhere and snatching the bag from Tara's hands. 'Have I ever mentioned that Slaying makes ya hungry *an'* horny? Can't do anythin' 'bout number two, but I can 'least grab something to eat.'
Dawn's ears pricked up. 'Horny?'
'Like you wouldn't believe.' Faith said, munching on a bagel. 'Nice bagel, by the way, maybe I should consider hangin' round here more often...' She eyed Dawn. 'Huh. We taking the kid along too?'
Tara nodded, still flushing from Faith's earlier comment.
'Hey, no problem. Just so long as you stay outta the way while I slay whatever it is needs slaying.' Faith said. 'Can't have any bystanders in the way, no offence. Might get distracted.'
'No problem.' Dawn said, returning Faith's grin.
'We ready to go?' Faith asked Tara.
'Y-yes.' Tara said.
'Then let's move!'
Tara stopped at the corner of the block.
'T?' Faith glanced over at her.
Tara didn't answer.
She didn't need to ask which building it was - it screamed at her, screamed hatred and anger and violence, screamed its very *wrongness* to the world.
But most of all, it screamed *fear*. Fostered it, nutured it... and drank it down.
'T? What's up?'
'I-it's... I-i... I d-don't t-think it's a v-vampire.' Tara said, gathering herself. 'I-it... t-there's b-blood t-there, b-but i-it's not about t-that.
'I-it's a-about /f-fear/. P-paranoia. I-it f-*feeds* off it, drinks it...' Her eyes fluttered open. 'I-it's s-still in t-there. S-still f-feeding.'
'Christ on a pogo stick.' Faith said, running her fingers through her hair. 'Any ideas? 'Cause I'm betting we go in there, /we're/ next.'
'T-there's a b-bookshop I-i know...' Tara said slowly. 'T-the owner... h-he's g-got some b-books on d-demons, t-things l-like that... i-if we c-could p-pin it d-down, w-we might b-be able t-to g-get a b-better idea.'
'On a Sunday?' Faith said.
Tara managed a small smile. 'T-the owner's r-rather B-bohemian.'
'Rather *weird*,' Dawn stuck in.
'Yeah?' Faith said. 'Sounds good to me. Let's get going.'
'L-let's.' Tara said.
She turned away from the hotel, shuddering.
'Hey, anyone in?' Faith said, as she entered the bookshop.
She waved the dust off. 'Geez, when was the last time you cleaned this place?'
The old man sitting behind the counter, eyes on the TV, looked up and took her in. 'Hey there. Name's Denver. How can I help you, beautiful?'
Faith raised an eyebrow. 'I dunno. Why don'tcha tell me what you've got in mind, and I'll let ya know?'
'Okay, grossing out here...' Dawn announced.
'Dawnie! How ya doin', kitten?' Denver said. He jerked his head in Faith's direction. 'She with you?'
Dawn nodded. 'Tara's right behind.'
'Tara! How's my favourite witch?' Denver greeted as Tara entered. 'The Samantha biz still workin' out for ya?'
A smile crept across Tara's face. 'S-still working...'
'Great. Who's your friend?'
'Faith.' Faith said, sticking out her hand.
If Denver noticed she hadn't given a surname, he didn't comment, instead shaking her hand. 'Pleased to meet'cha. What can I do ya for?'
'Is that an offer?'
'Hello?' Dawn said, 'I'm still in the room?'
'Chill, li'l bit.' Denver said. 'It's cool, it's cool.'
'W-we...' Tara visibly pulled herself together. 'We need information on anything that feeds off fear, paranoia...'
'Yeah? Lemme see what I got...' Denver hauled himself out of the chair. Silently, he indicated Faith - she know?
'Huh. Fear demon... 'minds me 'bout the first time someone walked in here asking 'bout that. Which was special, 'cause, y'know, he was a vampire.' Denver commented.
Faith and Tara both turned to him.
'Came in looking to kill a demon to - and this is the good part - save some humans.'
'H-he w-wasn't b-blond, w-with a B-british accent, w-was he?' Tara asked, somewhat nervously.
Denver considered. 'Nah. Tall, dark, broody type. Coulda' done a good Batman, few years later... Never did find out how he'd got on, tho'.'
'What sort of demon was it?' Dawn asked.
Denver frowned in concentration. 'Thesulac. Paranoia demon, if I recall right... Come on, the books're in the back, they've got more stuff on it.'
Faith dropped back to Tara. 'What do ya make of that?'
Tara spread her hands. 'I-i don't know.'
Faith scowled. 'Well, 'least we know ours aren't the /first/... so what's the deal? And what's this crap with a vamp trying t' /save/ people? Yeah, in the comics...'
'M-maybe if t-they're d-dead, he c-couldn't feed?' Tara suggested, as they entered the back room.
'So why not try striking a deal - demon terrifies them, vamp sucks them?' Faith's scowl deepened. 'But the demon's still feeding, so why aren't the vamps sucking?'
Tara remembered Spike's chip - and Faith's account of Dru's behaviour.
She'd walked off.
She'd... walked off.
For whatever reason, she'd decided not to go in, to face the demon - and she'd been in town well before Spike.
Tara stored it away for further thought.
'Hey, I ain't deaf.' Denver said, dumping a pile of books in front of them. 'Like I said, he wanted to /help/ them. I figured if somethin' like that could happen, there hadta be good in the world.'
'Yeah, *right*.' Faith scoffed.
Tara remained quiet, idly flicking through the books.
'Hey, if one could do it, why not more?' Denver shrugged. 'Ain't happened yet, but I'm still hopin'. Then gorgeous here walked in-' he indicated Tara '-and right there, I thought, that's it, man. The good fight's still going on. It still /matters/, no matter how much of a hellhole the world becomes. There's still worth in the world, otherwise why even bother?'
Denver didn't notice, but Faith did.
'Me, I think if you're alive and they're dead, *that's* a win.' she said.
Denver whistled. 'Cold, cold... the way I see it, you'll do almost anything to survive, and it don't matter whether the world's a better or worse place. If ya fight the darkness, do something good, then the world's that little bit better off for everybody.'
'Nice. Maybe you should stick it on a Hallmark card.' Faith observed. 'You get what you can take in this world, 'case you hadn't noticed.'
'What profit it a man to gain the world, if he lose his own soul?' Tara murmured.
'Now *she's* got it.' Denver said.
'Got it!' Dawn announced, almost in the same breath. 'Thesulac. Paranoia demon. Whispers to its victims, feeds off their insecurities.'
Faith glanced at Tara, but said nothing.
'This our boy?' she said.
'Well, I don't see anything /else/...' Dawn huffed.
'Which doesn't mean that there /isn't/ anything else.'
'Anything else tends to be one-of-a-kind... and we *really* don't wanna go there.' Dawn informed the others. 'Have you /seen/ some of these things?'
'Better hope we're right,' Faith said. 'It's only gonna give us one chance at this. It say how you kill one of these things?'
Dawn frowned. 'Well... normally, they're incorporeal unless they've eaten... say, about a nice hysteric mob's worth... or if you raise it.'
Faith raised an eyebrow. 'Think we'll go for the raising.'
'Need an incantation, sacred herbs, divining powder, and an Orb of Ramjarin for that.' Denver said. 'Incantation's in the book, herbs and powder no problem... as for the Orb, lemme check. Think I might have one in stock... But you'll need something big to hit it with.'
'Something big?' Faith said.
'Thing's 'bout ten feet high.' Denver informed her. 'Something big. Maybe a bolt of lightning... short of that, big and heavy the way to go.'
'We'll take it.' Tara told him.
'Right. I'll just go pack it up.' Denver regarded Tara. 'Y'know, you've gotta stop this faith-affirming thing, it's bad for the health. Good to see you in the good fight.'
He pottered off.
Tara flinched again; again, Faith noticed, but said nothing.
Tara took a deep breath. 'Okay... D-dawnie, I want you *home*.'
'Ta-' Dawn began.
'Home, Dawn.' Tara said firmly. 'I-if it /is/ a T-thelusac, i-it's d-dangerous... and i-if it i-isn't, w-we h-have to g-get out s-straight a-away.'
'But what about you?' Dawn protested.
'You'll need another pair of hands.' Denver said, coming back in. 'If gorgeous casts the spell, and beautiful clobbers the thing... you need another pair of hands for the ritual. Someone to hold the Orb, sprinkle the powder. Anyone you know willing to help?'
Faith and Tara looked at each other, then at Dawn.
Who tried to look brave and self-confident.
It wasn't really coming off, though.
Steaming dog turd.
How long had it been since *he'd* sucked on something?
Coming up on 'bout a year, wasn't it?
God, he wanted to sink his teeth into something, suck it dry...
Sod that. What he wanted was to do it was to do it while Dru watched, pride lighting up her face.
'Cept that wasn't gonna happen, was it? Not with that shiny soul of hers.
No, she'd be looking at him, feeling *sorry* for them. For what she'd done to him - not seeing him like a human would.
Bollocks to that.
He'd been a wonderful, glorious, savage monster - *they'd* been glorious, scourging Europe with their passion - and she wanted to know what the woman she'd been would have made of William?
William wouldn't even have *noticed* her, crazy little bitch. Too airy-fairy for harsh reality. Gone on writing his bloody awful poetry.
'Course, she wouldn't like hearing *that*, would she?
But what the hell was she doin' floating round the old hotel? Damn sure he'd never been there with Dru, so what'd it meant to her?
Probably one of her visions, he figured. Wonder what it was?
Some other bugger's problem, whatever the hell it was.
He tried the TV again.
No, still sucked.
Where were the sodding witch and the nibblet? Could do with someone to yell at.
Wouldn't do much for his temper, but he'd feel a bit better.
Gone out, she'd said. Yeah, right. Translation: I'm gonna chat with that slutty Slayer while you can't follow us.
Wait up. The slut'd caught up with him by the hotel, so what if she'd spilled to the witch 'bout...
...'bout what? Already knew Dru had a soul, and he'd lost the Slayer after that little bombshell.
Probably 'bout Sunnydale.
Yeah. Battle plan. What he'd do in her position.
Then again, Dru *had* been floating 'round the hotel. Wouldn't put it past the Slayer to go back to the scene of the crime, see what she could discover.
Probably something nasty, he figured. Shame he wouldn't be there while it killed Glinda and the slut, but what the hell, you couldn't have everything.
He flicked again. Now, this looked good...
'You gonna be okay, T?' Faith said. 'Don't want ya freakin' out on me just yet.'
Tara nodded. As long as she didn't focus...
Every pore of her being was screaming at her to run, *run*, take Dawn, and never, never stop.
She'd sworn a duty. She'd sworn to uphold the balance.
She'd hidden from it long enough, hoped it wouldn't come for her and Dawn... but Faith's arrival had shown her how selfish that was, concerned only for her own family's safety.
All *they* were concerned about.
She couldn't be like that. Not shut her head in a book and hope it all went away. She couldn't stand by while others went to their deaths. Not when she could've done something.
It had to be them.
'L-let's d-do it,' she said.
Faith was the first inside, followed by Tara and Dawn.
Dawn stopped in the lobby, and whistled. 'Waow...'
Tara silently agreed. The lobby seemed large enough to accommodate a ballroom inside. The reception looked like something out of the Fifties, complete with letterholes, key-hooks, a little light where the consierge would have stood, even a junction-box off to the side.
Even Faith seemed impressed, taking it all in seconds. 'Okay, T. How we gonna do this?'
'W-well...' Tara began. 'I-if you stand...' She looked around. 'O-over there, b-by reception, r-ready for it t-to manifest.'
'Gotcha.' Faith said.
'Dawnie, if you could start sprinkling the area with the powder, and be ready with the Orb when I hold out my hand.'
'On it.' Dawn said.
'Okay...' Tara took a deep breath. 'Here goes.'
Tara concentrated on the book as Dawn sprinkled the powder, tried to ignore the voice - the demon's, no doubt.
BUT YOU DO DOUBT, DON'T YOU?
'Done!' Dawn announced.
'We call thee forth, Thuselac of the netherworld. We command you to leave our minds and join us on this, the physical plane...'
YOU'RE AFRAID YOU'RE VULNERABLE. YOU'RE QUITE NEUROTIC BY NOW, ALL THOSE CONFLICTING FEARS IN YOUR HEAD. AFRAID OF YOUR FAMILY, AFRAID OF THE DEMONS, AFRAID OF THE PEOPLE YOU KNOW... THE SLAYER IS UNPREDICTABLE, THE VAMPIRE IS BARELY LEASHED...
Tara held out her hand.
Dawn placed the Orb in Tara's hand, somehow managing not to fumble.
AFRAID OF YOURSELF.
Tara gave her little sister a brave smile.
'We invoke thee by the power of all the Priests of Ramjarin. What was once in our thoughts, be now in our midst - '
AFRAID OF WHAT YOU'LL BECOME, THE DEMON WITHIN. AFRAID OF THE MONSTER. BUT YOU FEARED IT LESS THEN YOU FEARED THEM.
YOU FEAR WHAT WILL HAPPEN ONCE IT COMES OUT. THE SLAYER WILL KILL YOU. THE DEMONS WILL CLAIM YOU AS THEIR OWN.
The air before them began to shift. Something dangerous forming, building, building...
Faith and Dawn readied themselves.
AND YOUR SISTER WILL BE LEFT ALONE...
The demonic voice now pained, struggling against the calling.
The air shifting, getting thicker...
And the demon made itself manifest.
Ten feet tall, robed and hooded. Black tentacles slithered out from under its robe, buoying it upwards. A great figure of death.
'WATCH THE TENTACLES!' Faith yelled at the terrified teen.
'THE TENTACLES, DAMMIT!!'
Dawn stumbled back, just as a tentacle passed through the space where she'd been.
Tara and Faith stepped back, Tara trying to get as close to Dawn as the Thesulac would allow, as the demon skittered its way around the lobby.
'Mm...' the Thesulac said. 'Take-out.'
'Yeah? The bill just came due, tentacle-boy.' Faith said. 'And I collect with prejudice.'
'Oh yes. Prejudice and paranoia and fear, oh my... all delectable, all delicious... and the three of you filled almost to stuffing with it.' The Thesulac made a lip-smacking sound. 'The child scared for her big sister, scared of what I can do. The Slayer afraid of the world, afraid to let it in, yet still needing it... and the witch, with all her plump, juicy secrets.'
'Jeez...' Dawn managed to say. 'You *have* been outta it, haven't you? That is /so/ "Ricki Lake".'
'Oh, true, true... but that doesn't make the fear any less real. They say confession is good for the soul... but it only brings the fear to the surface...'
' 'Course, the thing about standing and talking,' Faith said conversationally, 'is that you're not ready for the action.'
She pulled out a stake and *slammed* it into a nearby tentacle, faster than the demon could move.
The Thesulac screamed, lashed out a tentacle-
-but Faith was suddenly no longer there.
'Y-you're still feeding...' Tara whispered. '*Someone's still in here...*'
'Good, good...' the Thesulac whispered in reply. 'Did your demon sight tell you that?'
Faith froze. 'Say *what*?'
Keep moving, Tara silently urged. Keep moving. This is what he *wants*.
Faith turned on her, eyes blazing. '*WELL?*'
'NOT NOW, FAITH!' Tara wailed desperately. 'I'LL TELL YOU AFTERWARDS!'
'Or perhaps I should tell you now...' the Thesulac hummed. 'A parting gift. A tip. After all, this place has been so very, very satisfying to me...'
Out of the corner of her eye, Tara saw Dawn slip towards reception.
Run, she urged. Run. Leave us here. Get out!
'Half-demon, on their mother's side.' the Thesulac purred. 'Both of them... recessive in the child, isn't that what they said? She inherited it... but it wouldn't manifest. No magical talent.'
Faith's voice was cold. 'Go on.'
'But the witch... ah, the witch, you'll notice she didn't say I lied. Too taken aback.
'Half-demon. And the demon will manifest on her twentieth birthday...'
'Liar.' Faith spat.
'Am I?' the demon said. 'Why don't you ask her?'
Dawn grabbed hold of a tentacle.
The Thesulac turned on her, hissing-
-Faith rounded on Tara.
Tara closed her eyes, nodded-
-and Dawn slammed the tentacle into the reception's junction-box.
Sparks jumped from the box, current racing along the moist tentacle, heading for the Thesulac-
It *screamed* as the electricity scorched through it, *screamed* and *screamed*-
-and was gone, only thick, oily smoke remaining.
'Bitch.' Faith whispered, her eyes tearing up, ignoring everything else but Tara. 'You absolute bitch. You want I should kill both of you now, put everyone out of their misery? Make the world a better place?'
'Would it?' Tara breathed. 'Would it?'
'Hey, I'm the Slayer. Doesn't say *just* vampires. Lotta other things out there I gotta deal with.' Faith said, her face a snarl. '*Why didn't you tell me?*'
'*You're the Slayer!*' Tara moaned, gasping for breath.
'So tell me. You got a soul?'
Tara looked up in surprise.
Faith's regard was cold. '/You got a soul?/'
'Dawn has. My mother had.' Tara hesitated. 'I... I suppose - I hope - I do. I can't see myself. But as you said... a soul doesn't make you a nice person.'
'Yeah,' Faith returned. 'And being a demon doesn't make you a piece of crap. Being a lying little *bitch*-'
'Demons are *evil*, aren't they? Would *you* tell someone if you were afraid you were going to slip over the edge? If you knew you were going to become a *monster*?' Tara felt her eyes tear up; she didn't care. 'No. You wouldn't.'
Faith regarded her. 'What kinda demon?'
Tara blinked. 'What?!'
'What kinda demon?' Faith repeated.
'I... I don't /know/. An /evil/ one, that's what my parents said. An evil one. A bad one.'
Faith narrowed her eyes. 'And what? Just like that-' she clicked her fingers. 'you become evil? You lose all control? Tell me, T... You know any demon like that? That *pow* takes away your humanity just like that?'
'Vampires.' Tara returned. 'It happens to vampires.'
'Yeah. And they die first.' Faith stepped closer. 'Y'see... I don't get this, T. I really don't. You'll still /remember/ you, right?'
'M-my m-mother did...' Tara said. 'She remembered herself...'
'And she was *well* beyond twenty, right? She could control herself, right?'
Faith took another step. 'She had a soul, right?'
'...right.' Tara said.
'So what the hell makes you think you're gonna turn evil? Your mom didn't, why should you?'
'M-my family...' Tara whispered. 'Said... only they could keep it down, keep it under control...'
Faith regarded her. 'Families talk a load of crap, T. I should know. Even if this bullshit's on the money, *someone*, *somewhere*, learned how to keep it on a leash. If someone /else/ did, so can we. How long's it till your twentieth?'
'C-couple of months.' Tara managed to get out.
'Right. Plenty of time. And we'll see if we can't get that Host in on this, too.' Faith cracked her knuckles. 'Anything *else* you're keeping from me?'
Tara closed her eyes. 'I'm a lesbian.'
Faith double-took, and started laughing. '*You?* You're... oh jeez, T, that's priceless. That's absolutely priceless!'
'So?' Tara said, her dignity wounded.
Faith clapped Tara on the back. 'Hey, no problem. We just gotta get you out, meet some nice girls...'
'T-thank you...' Tara muttered.
'Uh-huh.' Dawn said. 'Right. And the fact you were threatening us means we should all be kissy-kissy?'
Faith regarded Dawn. 'I may be the Slayer, but that don't mean "hand in your brains at the door". The bastard was tryin' to screw with me - and *no-one* gets away with that. But just so we're straight - no, it doesn't. Hell, I /know/ I'm the last person you wanna screw with. Feel free to walk out any time.'
'*No.*' Tara said. '/No./ I made a promise. I made an *oath*. And I won't back away from it the first time things get tough.'
Dawn sighed. 'Don't have a choice, do I? Yeah, count me in...'
'Did anyone ask you?' Faith inquired.
'Faith...' Tara chided.
Dawn managed a grin. 'It's a package deal. Get Tara, get me absolutely free.'
'Is it too late to get a refund?' Faith wondered.
Tara had broken away from Faith, looking at the grand stairway.
'Someone's still here...' Faith murmured. 'He straight up on that?'
Faith looked up. 'Then let's finish this.'
They made their way down the darkened corridor, the lights long burned out, wallpaper peeling, carpet old, worn, but still fine.
'Anyone else seen "Psycho"?' Faith wondered. 'Or is it just me?'
'"The Shining"?' Dawn suggested.
'Shh, both of you.' Tara said.
She rested her hand on a door handle.
The door swung open.
The wallpaper hadn't been changed for decades, as pristine as the day it had been put up. The furniture was old, Fifties-style... but again, it was unchanged.
An overstuffed chair faced away from the door.
'If that's tentacle-boy's stuffed mom, I'm gonna hurl...' Faith murmured, only to be hushed by Dawn, still watching her sister.
An old voice, cracked by age. A woman's voice.
'I don't hear them anymore... I don't hear them... are they gone?'
'Yes,' Tara said, moving around, moving to face the woman in the chair. 'Yes, they're gone. They're all gone.'
The woman was old, well into her seventies, her face wrinkled, but a light still shone in her eyes, a spark of life.
'He died...' she murmured. 'He died... because of me... I killed him. He tried to help me... and I killed him.'
'Shh...' Tara said gently, kneeling before her, taking her hand. 'Sh. They're not coming.'
'I... I was... I was Judy, wasn't I...? They were after me... all of them... they wanted to send me to prison... I just... I couldn't be locked up... so I told them... he was a monster... he drank blood... and they killed him... but it didn't stop them, it didn't...' Her voice cracked, a sob escaping her throat.
'I know...' Tara said, in that same gentle voice. 'I know.'
'Hung him... they hung him, and then they came for me. He kept them away, though... took care of me, said I'd be safe...' She looked at Tara, fear still in her face. 'Am I safe?'
'You're safe.' Tara told her.
The old lady looked at her again, trying to understand.
'Can I go out now?'
'Yes.' Tara said. 'You can go.'
The old woman smiled at her, as if smiling at a favoured nurse, and started to rise, but the effort was evidently difficult for her.
'Let me help you.' Tara said.
The old woman looked to her, grateful, as Tara helped her stand.
'I just... I need to take a little rest first... just a little rest...'
Gently, Tara helped her over to the room's bed, helped her lie down.
The old woman looked up at her. 'I'm sorry... I'm sorry for killing him... I'm so sorry... for everything...'
She closed her eyes, her breathing becoming shallow.
Tara rested her hand on hers.
'Can you forgive me?'
Tara closed her eyes. 'Yes. Yes, I do.'
The other woman smiled, her eyes not opening.
'I'll just rest... just for a minute... then I'll go out.'
And she died.
Tara walked back down the corridor, lost in thought.
'You okay?' Dawn asked.
Tara nodded. 'I'm... I'm fine.'
'We done? That it?' Faith said.
'Who was she?'
Tara paused, considering. 'Her name... her name was Judy. She... she just wanted to be safe.'
Faith let out a long, low, astonished whistle. '*Bastard*...'
'How... how long was she here?' Dawn asked, her voice on edge.
Tara shook her head. 'I... I don't know. Since the Fifties?'
Faith whistled again.
'We did good, right?' Dawn said.
Tara looked at her sister's pleading expression.
'Yes. Yes, we did good.'
She held Dawn's hand tight.
'What now?' Faith asked.
Tara let herself focus.
The hotel no longer screamed at her - but the fear, the paranoia, the violence, was etched into its being. Had been etched in over fifty years and more.
'We...' Tara hesitated. 'We need to...' She trailed off.
'Burn the place down?' Faith suggested.
'Seconded.' Dawn said.
Tara shook her head. 'It... it won't help. It's gone too deep for that. We... we need to make things right.'
'And burning it down *won't*?' Faith said in disbelief as they re-entered the lobby. 'This thing is *bad*, T. Even vamps don't stick around.'
'Not any more.' Tara told her. 'Faith... please. Burning it down would just scar what's here even deeper.'
'So... what then?'
Tara rubbed at her eyes. 'Someone needs to keep an eye on this. A place like this... it'd be a nexus for dark magic.'
'Like you'd know.'
'Faith... any witch in their right mind wouldn't let this be.' Tara said. 'The place screamed fear and pain and hurt... someone needs to watch it, stop it from being corrupted again.'
'Someone's gotta make sure it stays a good place.' Faith's smile was crooked. ' 'Kay, I'll do it.'
Tara and Dawn looked at her.
'What?' Faith said, with a shrug of her shoulders. 'I always wanted to live some place like this. And it's not like anybody's using it.'
'If you're sure...'
' 'Course I'm sure. Anything tries to come this way, it's gotta deal with the guys who took down a Thesulac.'
Tara looked around. 'It needs a ritual purification... maybe the Host will know someone...'
'You're not...?' Faith inquired.
Tara smiled tiredly. 'No... no, you don't need that. Leave it to someone else.'
Faith returned it. 'Yeah. Yeah, I suppose.'
'Um... Isn't that squatting?' Dawn said.
Faith snorted. 'Yeah, right. Like they'd get anyone to buy the place. Nah, I'll take care of it.'
Dawn sniffed. 'Get some Odor-Eaters while you're at it. This place stinks.'
Faith sniffed too. 'Probably charred demon.'
Dawn's face screwed up. 'Eeeewwww...'
Faith grinned at Dawn's reaction. 'So... how 'bout it? You guys gonna help me move in, get things working?'
Tara considered the idea.
'It's the least we can do.' she said finally.
Faith clapped both of them on the back. 'Great. A microwave, a TV, maybe a PlayStation, and it'll be the perfect set-up.'
'Have you got any money?' Tara asked.
Faith shook her head. 'Uh-uh. Down to my pocket change. Thinking maybe I could do a little five-finger discount.'
Tara thought over the state of her finances. 'Um... I can maybe get you a throw rug... but no stealing. *Please.* We don't want any more attention than we have to.'
'This is a witch thing, isn't it?' Faith said, raising a sardonic eyebrow.
Tara's mouth quirked upwards. 'Pretty much.'
'Wonder what that whole vampire thing was?' Faith said.
'I don't know.' Tara said.
And that was the truth.
The more she learned about this, she thought, the more questions there were.
What'd happened to Denver's vampire? Judy had said she'd told 'them' about a monster who drank blood... but lynching wouldn't kill him, not if he /was/ a vampire...
He'd learned about the Thesulac, he'd gone to Denver's...
...and then he'd got lynched.
If he'd turned his back... she couldn't have blamed him.
What had Spike and Dru known about it? Had Dru lured Faith here so she'd take care of the demon?
Spike wouldn't talk, she knew. Which meant...
...she'd have to talk to Dru.
'So...' Faith said, interrupting Tara's train of thought and taking the sisters by the shoulders. 'Anyone for lunch?'
Tara simply _looked_ at her. 'Faith, it's mid-afternoon.'
'...Nothing.' Tara said, a slight smile back on her face. 'Nothing.'
'My treat.' Faith said. 'Whaddya say to KFC?'
Tara thought about this. 'I'd say it needs ritual purification.'
Tara shuddered. 'Now /that/ needs to be burned to the ground.'
'KFC it is then.' Faith said, grinning. 'Y'know, T, this looks like the start-'
'Don't say it,' Dawn interrupted. 'Don't say it, or I'm gonna _hurt_ you.'
'What? *What?!* T, you talk to her!'
'Hey, if she's gonna be quote-dropping, she could at least pick something a little less overexposed!'
Tara let their bickering wash over her as her thoughts drifted elsewhere.
"Where there is a Gate, there is a Key. And a Beast." Dru's voice said.
Tara closed her eyes.
Not yet, though.
Copyright 2002 Imran Inayat.