New Friends (1/?)
Faith knocked impatiently on the hotel room door. “You ready yet X?” she called, anxious to see some of San Diego’s sights.
“Give me another minute okay?” came the answer.
“Five by five,” she agreed before leaning casually against the door. Frisco had been wicked fun, the Halliwells seemed like good people, but being on the road, her and X alone against the world, that was where it was at. “Live fast and leave a hot-looking corpse,” she muttered. Every extra day she lived she knew she was bucking the odds, there were plenty of kids from her hood that were dead already. And that was without taking into account her Calling. She smiled as Xander’s hotel room door swung open. “About damn time X.”
Xander raised an eyebrow. “A woman complaining about tardiness. There’s a twist.”
* * *
Clements groaned as the last coach of the evening left the coach park. “Nothing tonight boss?”
“Nothing,” Clements shook his head. His gang usually hung out at the bus stop looking for some young runaway that nobody would miss to have some fun with. After a second he sighed and glanced at his three companions. “Squires.” His minions nodded enthusiastically but he grimaced. He hated nightclubs, there was always so much competition for meat, and you couldn’t always take the time he liked with his prey. But any ort in a storm.
His eyes narrowed as he followed his minion’s pointing finger. A honey-blonde was hurrying away from the ticket office, a solitary figure in the deepening darkness. He smiled as he noted the timidity in the pretty girl’s posture and the curvy body beneath her baggy, new age clothing. They were going to enjoy her. “Let’s go boys.”
Using the parked coaches and shadows as cover, Clements led his underlings across the forecourt. The girl had just reached the last parked coach when he stepped out from behind the bus and into her path. “Hello sweetie.”
His smile widened as he smelt the girl’s uncertainty, better and better. “H…hello,” eyes downcast, the girl attempted to step around him but he continued to block his path.
“Don’t go sweetie,” he grinned as the blonde backed away from his approach, her innocent eyes widening, damn she practically screamed victim. “All we want to do is have some fun.” And make you scream to die, he added silently.
The girl’s eyes grew saucer-sized. “We?”
Clements chuckled as his gang stepped out from the shadows, boxing the girl in. “Leave me alone,” the girl’s voice trembled.
“Let me think, no.” His laugh drowned out the blonde’s scream when he changed into his demonic face. Covering the space separating him from the girl in a half-second, he back-handed her to the ground. “Shut up bitch!” he drove the point of his boot into the teen’s ribs turning her screams to gulping wheezes. “Damn it,” he grinned at his children before grabbing the girl’s hair and pulling her head up, revelling in the terror in her eyes. Nothing compared to the rush he got hearing his food beg to be killed. The girl started to scream again but he dazed her into silence with another backhander to the mouth that also drew blood.
He released his grip on the woman, allowing her to slum down to the concrete. He licked the girl’s blood off his hand, enjoying its salty, metallic taste, before turning to the others. “Boys,” he crowed. “We are going to P-A-R-T-Y tonight!”
“Oh I don’t think so,” a cold voice announced behind him.
Clements glanced over her shoulder. He drank in the coal-eyed beauty behind him before turning to face her. “Who the fuck are you bitch?” he demanded, this was going to be his best night ever. Hell, he chuckled as a thought occurred, this one he might just turn and keep for himself.
“I could be the party police.” The curvy brunette arched an eyebrow. “But I’m not, I’m the,” Clements felt a gnawing fear take hold of his stomach, twisting it, as a nagging suspicion formed, “I’m the Slayer,” the girl beamed. “Pleased to meet you.”
* * *
Faith took a half-second to savour the vampire’s fearful expressions before springing to action. Leaping into the air she led with a spin kick that smashed into the nearest blood-sucker’s jaw, snapping his head sideways, and sending blood spraying into the back of the nearest bus.
After bellowing in pain, the vampire charged her. At the last second Faith slid away from the charge, darting to her left. Sensing a demon behind her, she shot out an elbow, grinning at the resulting grunt she followed up with a back-heeled kick to the groin that sent the vampire down to his knees.
Noting the other three vampires converging on her she back-somersaulted over the knelt vampire, plunging her stake downwards through the demon’s back. On landing she winked at the other members of the undead community. “Who’s next for a little Faith?”
“Hey assholes,” Faith grinned as her friend’s cold voice floated out of the darkness. “You messing with my bud?”
The vampire to her left exploded into dust. A half-second later, Xander stepped out of the shadows. “Hi guys.”
The vampire leader peeled off and charged her bud leaving Faith to deal with the remaining vampire, a flabby dude in his early forties with bug eyes and a ginger goatee. Faith blew her opponent a kiss. “Come on big boy, show me what you got.”
A snarl on his lips, Fatso threw a clumsy overhand right that she ducked under before smashing a retaliatory right into her rival’s distended gut. A pained expression on his face, the demon stumbled backwards, but she was relentless, crashing her right heel into the vampire’s knee. Bone splintered under the impact of her attack and the screaming vampire fell forward onto her up-coming stake.
Faith’s head snapped towards her friend. Seeing him lying on the ground with the vamp leader above him, she dropped her now blunted stake and lunged forward, grabbing the vampire by the collar and flinging it away from her friend. She risked a glance at her friend. “You five by five X?”
Gaining a dazed nod in response, she turned her attention back to the vampire. And caught a shuddering right to the left side of her face, staggering her. “Shit!”
Composing herself, she caught the vampire’s follow-up left hook, grabbing him around the wrist, and throwing him into the wall. Before the monster had time to move, she followed up with a side heel kick to the chest and a spinning backhand fist that sent the vampire down to one knee. Taking advantage of the break in the battle, she reached into her jacket and pulled out her spare stake.
Letting out a roar, the vampire leapt at her, attempting to grab her round the waist and throw her to the ground. She blocked the attack with a bone-crunching knee to the demon’s chest and sent it face-first into the ground with an elbow to the back of the neck. Before the vampire had time to recover, she’d driven her stake through its back, consigning it to ashes.
A grin on her face, Faith reached out a hand and helped Xander to his feet. “Get up X.” Damn, the adrenalin rush she got from beating another demon, defying death, again never got old. She saw Xander’s answering smile fade as he looked over to the crumpled girl. “Aw shit.”
* * *
Xander felt his heart clench at the sight of the girl’s corpse. Another person he’d failed to save – just like Jessse, Jenny, Kendra, and all those who’d died at graduation, damn he was such a screw-up. “Ugh.”
Xander’s smile returned, threatening to split his face in two. She was still alive, they hadn’t failed after all. “Go do the comfort thing Xand,” Faith instructed, her eyes shining with the same relief he knew had to be in his, “you know me and the comfort feelie shit.”
After a nod at his friend, he hurried over to the girl and crouched over her. “Hi miss.” There was no answer. Realising she’d passed out, he rummaged through her clothes.
“What ya doing X?”
“Looking for some id,” he replied without looking up from the task in hand. “We have to find out if she’s got some family who’ll need to be contacted about her.”
“Makes sense,” Faith approved. He heard his friend move up to his shoulder, taking a protective position. “I’ll look through her bag.” A few seconds later Faith let out a growl. “Damn.”
Xander looked up. “What’s up?” he queried.
The Slayer’s eyes were troubled. “She’s from New Mexico and judging from all the stuff in her bag she’s a runaway.”
Which meant no medical insurance and they couldn’t drop her at a hospital anyway for fear they’d contact her possibly abusive family. Xander grimaced, which meant they’d have to look after her until she was better. “What’s her name?”
“Says here she’s Tara Maclay.”
New Friends (2/?)
“There you go,” Xander muttered as he placed the girl on his bed, dropping her bag on the floor beside the bed. He examined the teen’s battered face, smiling when he judged the blonde’s wounds to be nasty-looking and painful but superficial. It was probably the shock at coming face to face with vampires rather than the actual injuries that had rendered her unconscious.
“Xan,” he looked up to see his friend stood in the open doorway, a strange expression on her face. “Why ya bring her back here?”
“You said it yourself,” Xander replied. “She’s a runaway. She hurt and probably alone, we can’t just dump her.”
He was surprised when Faith’s eyes darkened. “If you think I’m just gonna stand around playing the faithful sidekick while you bed a ton of grateful babes we’ve saved then you don’t know me at all.”
“Now hold on.” It was an effort but he managed to keep his temper and voice under control. Did she think so little of him? He glanced at the slumbering girl before standing walking over to the Slayer. Grabbing the surprised brunette by her elbow he dragged her into her room. “Let’s talk in here,” he said through gritted teeth.
* * *
“Ooh,” Tara forced her eyes open, wincing at the pain lancing through her head. She paled as she remembered the monsters attacking her. Her body trembling with a combination of shock and weariness she forced herself into a sitting position. Her father had always said the outside world wasn’t for her, that she should stay home where he and her brothers could protect her, but she’d always believed it had been another of his lies. But now….
Her brow furrowed in thought, she looked around her surroundings. She was in a hotel room, simple enough but still a couple of levels above the places she’d been living in since running away six weeks ago. She smiled slightly as she remembered the friendly looking male and sexy brunette who’d come to her rescue. But where were they?
She realised she could hear noise through the room’s walls. Ignoring the thudding pain in her head, she rose unsteadily and made her way over to the wall, placing her ear against it. “Damn it Xan!” she recognised the distinctively husky voice of the girl she’d briefly seen before passing out for the second time. “This trip was meant to be about me and you kicking ass and having a good time, not you picking up strays!”
“Hold on,” it was the male, his voice low and angry. “She needs help. That’s what we’re supposed to do, remember?”
“We helped her,” the brunette snapped back. “Saved her from the vampire bogeyman. Job over.”
“So what do you suggest Faith,” the male countered. “We pat her on the head and kick her back onto the streets?”
Tara could almost hear the other girl’s shrug. “Works for me. I’m a Slayer not a social worker.”
Tears of hurt brimming in her eyes, Tara grabbed her bag and, after checking the contents were all in place, she hurried out of the room, closing the outer door quietly behind her.
* * *
Xander stared at Faith’s set face in disbelief. He couldn’t believe that she could be so selfish. One of the things he liked best about her was once you got past her armour there was a warm person who’d give a friend her last dollar without a second thought. But this…. Maybe he’d been mistaken about her after all.
Shaking his head, he turned to leave. “Where are you going?” his companion demanded, grabbing him by his elbow.
“I’m going to check on Tara,” he replied stiffly, pulling his arm loose. Before he said something they’d both regret.
Shoving the door open, his heart stopped when he found the room deserted. Hurrying over to the bathroom door, he knocked. When there was no answer he shoved the door open, his brow furrowing in worry when he found the room was empty.
“What’s up X?”
The Slayer took a backwards step at his glare. “What’s up is Tara must have overheard you telling me how unwelcome she is and run.”
Faith shrugged. “Problem solved.”
Xander shook his head, finding it an even greater struggle to hold onto his temper. “Yeah, a scared runaway with no friends all alone in a strange city, sound familiar?”
“Damn,” Faith’s face took on a look of contrition. “Best find her then. You take the car, I’ll go on foot.”
* * *
Tara hurried through San Diego’s shadowed streets, her heart filled with a queasy mixture of fear, hurt, and bewilderment. Why did that girl hate her so much? What had she ever done to her? She didn’t even know her!
She decided to head back to the runaway shelter she’d been planning to stay at and catch the Greyhound to Sunnydale in the morning, maybe people would be friendlier there. Suddenly she heard a screech of tyres and a door slam near-by.
“Hello Tara.” Her scream was muffled as her father’s rough palm closed around her mouth. “You’ve been a very naughty girl.”
* * *
“Damn it!” Faith growled in disgust as she kicked a stone across the road and into an open trash-can with effortless accuracy. She didn’t have anything against this Tara chick, hell she didn’t even know her. It was just that she couldn’t bear the idea of Xander being with another girl. If this trip was going to involve her watching Xan make out with a series of babes she didn’t know if she could deal with it.
She wanted him so much. Usually she could get any guy she wanted with a look or a sway of her hips but X was different. She was too scared to use the many tools nature had provided her with – scared that he might say no and even more frightened that he might say yes, the thought of being in a relationship, terrifying.
“Thanks Patty,” Faith chuckled bitterly. Her up-bringing had sure screwed her up, she finally meets a worthwhile guy and she’s too fucking petrified to do shit about it. Worse, she treats a girl she doesn’t even know like crap and pisses Xan off at the same time. Just great.
The sight of Tara across the road, separated from her by a park, interrupted her dark reverie. “Well that’s something,” she muttered. X wouldn’t stay mad at her if she brought Tara back.
Her eyes narrowed when a battered pick-up screeched to a halt beside the girl and a thick-set, unshaven man leapt out and grabbed the honey-blonde around her waist, clamping his other hand over her mouth. Faith’s eyes widened in outrage, no fucking way she was letting this happen. “HEY!” Muscles straining, she charged towards the kidnapping, hurdling the 12 foot high iron railings with ease. As she landed, the man bundled the girl into the cab before jumping back in himself and slamming the door shut. Two seconds later she leapt over a park bench as the pick-up started to move away from the sidewalk.
“NO!” Faith grimaced with the effort as she increased her speed but in her heart of hearts she knew she wasn’t going to make it. Another second and she was vaulting over the second railing and racing towards the speeding vehicle, her heart pounding with the exertion. Finally the pick-up hit 40kph, leaving her trailing in its dust. “Fuck!” Faith halted and glared impotently at the receding vehicle. Pulling out her mobile, she quickly dialled Xander. “Yeah Xan, it’s bad news. I saw a pick-up snatch Tara. Vamps? No,” she shook her head. “Damn thing had New Mexico plates. Yeah, papa came for his runaway. Yeah,” she nodded at Xander’s next words. “We really should.”
New Friends (3/?)
“Are you the ones looking for Tara Maclay?”
Xander exchanged a cautious glance with Faith. It had taken them two days to get to Tara’s home county of Sunrise but although they’d asked about the girl around Sunrise’s only town of Horsefield, their enquiries had been met with indifferent shrugs and evasive looks. Until now. “We might be,” he replied, peering at the shape in the darkness. “Who wants to know?”
After a second, a tall, lithely muscled man maybe ten years his senior stepped out of the shadows. Xander quickly realised the man was nervous, but not of them – yet. “I’m Charles Twain, Tara’s English and History teacher.”
“You know Tara’s dad?” Faith demanded.
Xander glanced sideways at his companion. Ever since witnessing Tara’s kidnapping Faith had been on the edge, even more driven to find the girl than he was.
Their potential informant took a step back into the shadows at Faith’s harsh tone. Xander quickly raised a calming hand, afraid of losing the only person they’d found who seemed to be willing to talk to them. “Relax friend,” he soothed. “We’re just concerned about Tara.”
The teacher smiled bitterly. “Concerned? That something Tara’s had precious little of in her life. Here we have one high school for 11 – 18 year olds. I taught Tara for five years -.”
“You said the school ran for seven grades?” Xander interjected.
Their informant grimaced. “I’ll get to that,” he replied. “Tara was such a sweet child, smart, gentle, and willing to please. But,” the teacher’s face tightened. “So shy, as if always scared of something-.”
“Or someone,” Xander heard Faith’s pain-filled mutter.
“My guess is she didn’t get much of a childhood,” Twain continued.
“If you thought that, why didn’t you do anything about it?” Xander asked.
The older man reddened and looked down at his feet for a few seconds before raising his eyes to meet Xander’s. “I did, eventually. At first I was just a teacher out of graduate school uncertain of his authority and intimidated by Josh Maclay’s reputation.” The teacher shrugged. “A lousy excuse I know. Just after her sixteenth birthday, Tara’s mother,” the man smiled wistfully, “lovely woman, died and her father pulled Tara out of school. I went to see Tara’s father to tell him how bright Tara was and that she should have a chance to at least finish her schooling. I got this,” the man flicked his shoulder-length red hair back to reveal a jagged scar on his left cheek. “For my troubles.”
“Fuck!” Faith exclaimed. “Why didn’t you go to the police?”
“There wouldn’t be a lot of point,” the teacher replied. “Seeing as his two eldest boys are Sunrise County deputies.”
“Oh crap.” Xander glanced worriedly at Faith. Things had just got a lot more complicated.
* * *
“This the Maclay place?”
“Yeah,” Xander risked a glance out from the cover of the boulder and grimaced. Calling the building some four hundred yards away a house was a hell of a stretch, what with its dirty walls, cracked windows, and the rubbish strewn outside it.
“Damn place looks like something out of Deliverance.”
Xander nodded at Faith’s comment. When they’d learnt of the Maclays’ law enforcement connections they’d decided to make a show of leaving the county to throw off any suspicions. It appeared to have worked but had meant leaving Tara unprotected for the day. But no longer, he silently promised. “X,” he glanced towards his companion. “How do we know she’s in there?”
“Twain said Tara’s pa uses her as an unpaid house servant right?” Faith nodded. “Well my guess he’d want to keep her somewhere close by and convenient. In the house.”
“Guess that makes sense,” Faith nodded. “I’ll go up the drainpipe and through that skylight, find her, grab her and get out. Okay?”
Xander nodded. “You got your mobile?” Faith lifted the set in question. “Fine. Just call me when you’ve got her out okay?”
Faith nodded. “Got something planned x?”
“I’ve got something planned,” he confirmed, thinking of what Twain had told him of Tara’s father’s brutality, and how he seemed to hold the entire county in the grip of fear. He had to learn the true meaning of fear.
* * *
Faith hurried to the house, deciding on a straight sprint rather than a furtive crawl through what little cover there was. To her relief there was no sign of her being discovered, no shouts of alarm, bodies bursting out of the house to intercept, or, more probably given what they’d learnt about the family, a rain of bullets tearing into her.
Faith scowled up at the side of the house, noting the rotting wood and the rusting drainpipe. Climbing up the house was going to be a bitch and there was no way in hell that the drainpipe would support both her and Tara’s weight. “Damn it,” she muttered. Resolving to cross that bridge when she came to it, Faith grabbed the drainpipe and powered, monkey-like, up the wall. Once she reached the top, she wrapped her legs around the drainpipe to stop from falling, grabbed hold of the guttering, and after uttering a quick prayer that the guttering would hold, swung up onto the roof.
Faith stared down at the crumbling wood beneath her and groaned. “Girl, if it wasn’t for bad luck you wouldn’t have any luck at all.” She looked across to the skylight, it was only maybe ten yards away but across these treacherous beams, it might as well be a mile. After a prayer to a god she only half-believed in, she rushed over to the skylight and crouched down.
“About fucking time,” she muttered after finishing her inspection. Finally some good luck. The skylight appeared sturdy enough but a combination of its worm-ridden frame and her power would mean that the lock was little obstacle. Grinning, she grabbed the padlock and flexed her biceps, tearing the lock out of the frame, sending wood splintering.
“Yes!” she exulted. Calming herself, she flipped the skylight open and dropped through the narrow hole.
Her joy at her accomplishing the first part of her mission died as she took in her new surroundings. She was in a sparsely furnished yet still cramped room; Tara’s obliviously sobbing body on the bed at the far side of the room. Faith’s heart clenched, this was her fault. If she hadn’t scared the blonde away, none of this would have happened.
Forcing her guilt, she crept up to the girl, clamping a hand over her mouth. Instantly the girl attempted to rise but she held her down, ignoring the dried blood and bruising on the other teen’s face. “Calm down Tar, I’m not going to hurt ya, okay?” After a second the girl nodded, the light of recognition shining in her one unswollen eye. “Okay,” releasing her grip Faith stepped back, ready to pounce if the older girl tried to scream for help.
“W…why are you here?” the honey-blonde whispered.
“To get you out of here,” she replied tersely. “I saw your dad grab you so me and X came for you.”
”Why?” the timid girl looked both hopeful and scared, two emotions she was more than familiar with.
Faith shrugged, unwilling to go into her own guilt. “’Cause it’s what we do. You comin’?”
After a second the girl spoke again, her voice trembling. “Y…yes.” The blonde grabbed a rucksack and started throwing some books and clothes in.
“We ain’t got time for that,” Faith hissed. “Xander’ll buy you any shit you need.”
The other girl shook her head. “I…I need my books.”
Faith reached out a hand to drag the girl away only for the honey-blonde to turn towards her, eyes flashing. “I need my books!”
Faith took a half-step back before grinning. So Tar had a spine after all. “Five by five, she agreed. “But just the-,” her eyes widened as she recognised some of the titles from Ally’s collection, “you’re a Wicca?” the other girl nodded. “Wicked cool. Just the books though, okay?”
“Okay.” Five minutes later the Wicca had finished and turned to her, her eyes doubtful. “H..how are we getting out?”
Faith pursed her lips together. “Always with the tricky questions Tar,” she muttered. It was a good point, she had considered giving the blonde a piggy-back and leaping up through the opening but the gap was too narrow. Suddenly she grinned, she had it. “Wait here,” she instructed before leaping up, grabbing the ledge with her right hand and pulling herself onto the roof.
“H..how did you do that?”
Faith smirked to herself. She never got tired of people being awed by her powers, reminded her there was something special about her other her smoking body and pretty face. “Later,” she replied tersely. “Get that chair,” she nodded towards the clothes covered chair by the bed, “put it under here and climb on.” The Wicca obeyed. “Now pass me your bag,” again the young girl obeyed. “Right, now lift up your hands, I’ll pull you through.”
The honey-blonde’s expressive eyes clouded over with doubt. “Y..you can’t lift me.”
“Just trust me okay?” after a second the Wicca nodded tentatively. Faith grinned. “Smart girl.”
The girl gasped in shock as Faith dragged her through the opening. “H..how?”
“I’ll explain later.”
“How do we get down?”
Another damn good question. Faith had figured on carrying the other girl down but that wouldn’t work – even if the roof’s rotting timbers didn’t give way under their combined weight, the drainpipe would. “Get in my arms.”
“W…what?” the Wicca looked surprised.
“I’m going to jump off the roof.” Her companion stared at her with widening eyes. “Look Tar,” she sighed, “just trust me, this distance is nothing for me.” Her legs would hurt like hell tomorrow, mind but if that was the only price she paid for being a bitch towards Tara then she figured she’d got off lightly.
Once she was cradling Tara in her arms, Faith winked down at the nervous looking Wicca. “Don’t worry,” she soothed. “Everything’s gonna be five by five. Just stay quiet, okay?” the witch nodded nervously, Faith guessed she did most things nervously. After taking a nervous breath of her own, she grinned. “Let’s go.” Bending her knees and then flexing powerfully, she surged into the air, grunting slightly with the effort. Even with the additional weight of her passenger, Faith easily cleared the roof before dropping to the ground.
She cursed slightly at the impact that reverberated through her lower body upon landing. After a second she put the other girl down. “A…are you alright?”
Faith grinned at the concern in the other girl’s voice. “Yeah, thanks,” she replied before flipping open her cell-phone. “X-Man, we’re out.”
New Friends (4/4)
“Thanks Faith,” Xander nodded at his friend’s voice in his ear. “Take care of Tara,” he smiled at his friend’s reply. “Yeah I’ll take care of myself.” His smile withered as he looked up at the house. “Time to pay the piper.” After checking the things he’d bought at Horsefield’s only sporting goods shop were in working order he hurried up to the Maclay place.
* * *
Josh chugged his bottle back, savouring the taste of the chilled beer as it flew down his throat. “House is looking kinda messy pa, when’s Tara gonna clean it?”
Josh stared bleary-eyed at his oldest son, the amount of alcohol he’d already consumed making it difficult to either focus or think. His daughter had been nothing trouble for the last few months, there was too much of her Ma in her to his mind. Thinking she could do her own thing, didn’t have to obey him. Well he’d settled her Ma’s hide and Tara would just have to learn her place too. Or go the same way.
He’d been furious when the wilful little bitch had run away. It had taken him and his boys six weeks to track her down, but they had. Josh smiled to himself, he’d had to whip her before, but he’d never used the buckle before. It was her own fault. “I think maybe it’s -.”
A knock at the door interrupted him. Standing with a groan, his old bones weren’t as spry as they’d once been, he made his way to the door and flung it open. “Yeah?” he glared at the brown-haired teen. Fucking salesmen, they were a pain in the ass.
His world erupted in agony as the youth hit him with a whirlwind three-pronged attack – a knee to the groin, fist to the throat, and most painfully, a nose-shattering head butt. Even as he hit the floor, the youth shoved his duster aside and pulled up a shotgun, halting his sons’ rising. “Cool your jets boys,” the intruder drawled, his tone mocking. Josh attempted to rise but the youth slammed a foot into his already painful groin, doubling him up again. “Stay down there pops. Now,” his attacker turned his attention back to his boys. “Put your hands behind your heads and get up. Slowly now,” the boy backed out of the doorway and onto the porch, his shotgun muzzle not wavering, “follow me out boys.” The teen glanced down at him. “You too pa,” he winked, “on your hands and knees mind.”
Eventually the five of them were on the ground outside their house. Him and his sons knelt on the hard sand and the teenager stood over them. Josh’s eyes widened as he noticed the six kerosene canisters around the front of his house. “You bastard!”
The youth chuckled, the sound chilling him to the bone. “You know Joshie old boy, I’ve only just met you but already I can’t stand you. Town bully, wife, and daughter beater. Well that stops now, I see you, I hear you, I smell you, and you’re dead.”
“You’re the one who’s dead!” he blustered.
The youngster smiled. “Heard the saying ‘empty vessels make the most noise’?” suddenly the teen’s shotgun shifted from pointing at them to the house. The shotgun bucked slightly, there was a boom, and then one of the fuel cans exploded into flames, spreading within seconds to the other cans. Soon his entire house was blazing, the arid smell of his house burning clogging his throat. The teenager turned back to him, the coldness in his eyes enough to freeze Josh’s blood. “I don’t like bullies. I see you again you’re dead.” The young man glanced sideways to the garage. “By the way your pick-up needs four new tyres, someone slashed them to ribbons.” The boy shook his head and tutted. “Vandals, a blight on American society. Bye now,” the youth backed away from them until he disappeared behind a rise some 400 yards away.
“Let’s get him Pa.”
Josh glared at his youngest son. “Did your Ma drop you on your head when you were a babe Cletus? That boy’s armed and he’ll use it, we haven’t got as much as a knife between them.”
* * *
“Here’s the deal,” Xander stared across the roadside café’s dirty table to the nervous girl sat opposite. They’d driven for two and fifty hundred miles, across three county lines before stopping at nightfall by a roadside motel. “There’s two things we can do. Where were you heading?”
“S…Sunnydale,” Tara stuttered.
He and Faith exchanged looks. Oh great, why was nothing ever simple? “Right,” he said, careful not to allow his own opinion colour what the girl did, “we could drop you off there. Or you could come with us, you know what Faith is. It’ll be tough, but you’ll get to go places you never dreamed of, see a little bit of the country, and help people, really make a difference.”
The Wicca’s eyes darted from him to Faith and back again. “X,” Faith broke in, her voice unusually tentative, “can I speak to Tar in private?”
Xander looked towards his brunette friend about to refuse when she unleashed her secret weapon – the pleading eyes. He groaned inwardly, he knew leaving the two of them alone was a huge mistake, but he couldn’t refuse those eyes, he hadn’t the defences. “Okay,” he sighed, “I’ll be at the counter.”
Faith punched him gently in the ribs. “Thanks Xman,” she grinned, “just don’t be hitting on any of the waitresses.”
Xander raised an eyebrow. As all of the waitresses looked like they had one foot in the grave he didn’t think it was likely. “I’ll try to resist,” he promised dryly.
“Yeah,” Faith winked, “but it’s lucky I trust ya.”
* * *
Tara stared anxiously at the sultry beauty sat opposite her. Even without knowing she was the Slayer there something about her that drew every eye to the shapely brunette. It wasn’t just her stunning looks but the unshakeable aura of confidence and force of personality surrounding her. Finally her companion spoke. “You want anything more to drink or eat Tar?”
Tara blinked, realising that for some reason the brunette was as on edge as her. “N…no,” she replied.
“Five by five,” the Bostonian nodded then paused for a few seconds. “Reason you ran away from us was ‘cause you over-heard me bad-mouthing you right?” after a second Tara nodded timidly. The Slayer groaned. “Fuck. Cards on the table time. Like you my life’s been pretty shitty since day one and I’ve never had a friend ‘til,” Faith cast a fond glance to the man sat by the counter, “I met Xan. When he started being nice to me I thought,” her counterpart shrugged, “I thought it was an act to get laid, but that’s just who he is. When he started talking about bringing you along with us I got,” the supernatural warrior glanced down, “scared. I figured the only person who didn’t give a shit about how hot I am or me being a Slayer, who just liked me for me, had got bored with me. So I flipped out. Now….”
“Now?” Tara prompted when the east coast native didn’t speak for a long while.
“Now,” the brunette looked up, her eyes filled with pleading. “Now I figure having two friends is way better than just one. Please, give me another chance.”
Tara stared at her fellow teen, judging her sincerity. Finally she nodded. “I…I’d like to be friends too.”
”Wicked!” the Slayer beamed back at her, her eyes shining with happiness. “Let’s go tell him!”
A sickening realisation hit her, making her stomach hollow in pain. “Y…you love him don’t you?” Tara wished with all her heart it wasn’t true, she wanted the spirited brunette for herself, but every time Faith mentioned their companion, her aura brightened, something she’d never seen before, not with her parents, but something she recognised from her mother’s books as love.
The Slayer’s beautiful face turned guarded. “There booze in that coffee girl?”
Tara shook her head. “N..no point denying it, I read your aura.” Faith’s eyes widened. “You should,” Tara hesitated. Telling herself it was the right thing to do she continued. “You should tell him.”
Faith shook her head. “No way,” the Slayer’s eyes filled with a fear that would have been comical under other circumstances. “You can’t tell either. Please.”
“I won’t,” Tara soothed with a smile. “But you should know he feels the same.”
“Really?” Faith’s eyes brightened then shadowed. “No, you’re wrong,” Faith retorted, her tone firm. “Maybe as a little sis or a bud, but the other way, no chance. Not after the way I treated him.”
“T..he way you treated him?” Faith reddened. “W..what happened?” Tara pressed.
“I kinda slept with him in January and threw him out afterwards,” Faith mumbled, “he was so nice and all, I was freaked out. It meant a ton to him too, he looked like I’d just torn out his heart and stomped on it.”
“T..that was bad,” Tara scolded, “but you’re wrong, he feels the same way.”
“I can’t,” Faith whispered.
“It is better to have loved and lost, than never loved at all.”
“Uh?” Now Faith looked confused.
“W..william Shakesphere said it,” Tara informed the Slayer.
“Ah,” Faith nodded sagely. “Who’s he? Your honey back home?”
Tara stared at her fellow teen for a second, nonplussed by her rely. “H..he’s a famous playwright. What it means if you don’t take a chance with Xander you’ll never know how wonderful it could be.”
After a second Faith shook her head. “I can’t. What if he says no? You can’t tell him.”
Tara nodded. “O..okay.”
Faith flashed her a strained smile. “Wicked. We gonna tell him you’re coming with?”
* * *
Xander smiled at Tara. “You sure you want to do this?”
Tara swallowed, a new life with exciting possibilities she’d never dreamed of beckoned her. It would be hard and dangerous but it also meant that for the first time ever she’d be doing something she wanted with people who liked her, thought she was worth something. Her pa had said nobody would ever like her, but as usual he’d lied. “I’m sure,” she nodded.
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