Author: Jacks aka WiccanHandprintz
There was no pain, no throbbing headache to force her awake. There was only a gummy tiredness around the eyes, and the dry, fuzzed discomfort of the mouth; Tara's tongue felt thick enough to have absorbed and destroyed not only all the moisture in her mouth, but all that in the air and possibly the nearest ocean as well. She opened her eyes slowly, blinking away the grit, the lashes of her left eye sticking together for a moment before separating with a suddenness that made her lids pop apart.
She was in a small, cheap-looking room, similar to the motel room in which she'd stayed those first few days of freedom. The walls were papered with a peeling faux-cloth print in striped shades of green, and the bed she lay on felt only a little softer than a wooden bench. There was one window, but someone had taped a flat rectangle of cardboard over the panes, leaving the room lit only by the dim ceiling light.
All that, however, came second to the realization that she was bound. Thick strips of duct tape wound around her wrists, and then around her waist, making it impossible for her to lift her arms from her stomach. Her ankles, too, were strapped together, connected to another band of silvery tape around her knees tightly enough that, as she tried to sit up, Tara found she could barely kick her legs at all.
"You look different," Cole Raimey said. Tara jerked, twisting her head around to look behind her and to the left. Raimey was standing against the back wall, hands in pockets. She'd known from the instant she awoke who had her, but even so, Tara couldn't bring herself to say a word. She just stared.
Raimey smiled, his nondescript features pulling up. When he straightened away from the wall and walked over to stand beside the bed, she saw that he limped slightly.
"Cut your hair." Still, she said nothing, though now it was because she refused to give him the stutter. She knew it would amuse him. Raimey didn't look too put out by her silence. "You know I'm going to kill you." It wasn't a question. "Your brother is not happy with you, Tara." He put a certain sneering emphasis on the words 'your brother', and Tara swallowed. "In fact, he was so eager to have you punished, he went ahead and gave me a little bonus to make sure I got the job done."
Tara glared at him, her hard mask sliding into place. It was only Donnie, really, that she couldn't maintain the coldness with. Only her brother.
"Now, I thought it was going to be a little harder to find you, and I was... impatient. I'm sure you can relate. So I decided to go straight for my extra surprise. Who would have thought I'd see you, walking out of her house?" A chill slipped, cruelly, to the base of Tara's spine. She felt the duct tape, sticky with her own sweat. Raimey shook his head. "You really ought to learn from your mistakes, Tara, and stay away from the girls."
"Shut up," she managed hoarsely, shaking a loose length of hair out of her face. Raimey leaned in, reaching a hand out to touch her cheek. She recoiled as far as she could, but he just reached with her, keeping his fingers against her skin. He stroked her chin.
"I touched you once, do you remember? What was that... ten years ago? Eleven? You weren't very nice that time. Then again, neither was I."
"Just k-kill me, then," she said, barely above a croak. Her heart was beating fast enough to hurt, but the bravado made her feel just a little bit better.
"Well, I'm curious," Raimey said, removing his hand from her face. He put it back in his pocket, calm and removed as ever. "What were you doing with our lovely Doctor R.? After all, she's a little damaged for you, don't you think? Or do you like them broken?"
"She's n-n-not broken," Tara spat, rolling herself into as much of a sitting position as she could manage. Raimey looked interested, polite, even. The fear that she was hiding from roiled, muttering inside her, waiting for the dam to break. She walled it in with anger, sick fury, and snarled at him. "She's g-got people watching for her, you p-piece of scum, and they'll take you down." Raimey lifted his chin in a sort of nod, breathing in.
"Ahhh, take me down the way you took down Sam Lyman?"
"P-permanently, Raimey. For you it'll be permanent." Raimey smiled, looking mildly delighted.
"Oh, dear. Tara, Tara... You didn't stick around long enough to see your own handiwork, but I thought you'd figure it out..." Tara shook her head, the anger taking a solid hit of confusion. She blinked.
"What?" Raimey leaned in close again, but this time he didn't even try to touch her. He seemed to be getting enough of a high from the expression on her face.
"You killed him, Tara. Right to the jugular, I hear, with a pair of scissors." He shook his head ruefully. "You didn't think he survived, did you?"
Tara, stunned, wanted to back away, to hit something, to run.
"No," she whispered, trapped by the duct tape and by her own mind. She saw herself slashing, saw the man Lyman stumbling back, saw herself seeing the window of her escape closing, and then running, running, gone. "No, I..."
"Oh, yes," Raimey corrected. "I really thought you knew, but this is even better. You're a murderer, Tara: you're just like me."
"Has she called yet?"
"No," Xander admitted. "But I'm sure it's just traffic, Will."
"She promised to call me at the airport," Buffy reminded Willow. "One of the conditions for my letting her leave."
"'Letting her leave'?" Willow shook her head. "You practically threw her out the door."
"Willow, she was dangerous," Buffy argued, rubbing at her temple. They were at the kitchen table, Henderson and her agents in the living room discussing what to do with their charge, who was proving more obstinate now than ever before. Willow refused to leave. "And you have to get out of here; Raimey could try to get at you at any time!"
"I'm not going," Willow said again, her stubborn elfin face set. "He's going to keep after me until either he kills me or we kill him, and now that you got rid of our one actual connection to him, the only leverage we have is that we know where he's going to strike. This is my house, my territory. We have the advantage." Buffy made a small sound, a half-laugh of disbelief.
"Listen to you. Are you the shrink or the cop here?" Then she grew serious, and reached out to take Willow's gloved hand. The redhead, Buffy noticed with surprise, didn't flinch. "Really, though, Wills... you're different. You're not... you're not taking this at all like I thought you would." Xander nodded, smiling a little.
"I mean, it's good to see you all up-at-arms," he added, "just kind of weird. Did something-- Y'know, did something happen? That we don't know about?" At that, Buffy's eyes narrowed.
"Willow, did something else happen with that girl?"
Willow pulled her hand away from her friend, looking from Xander to Buffy and back again.
"Goddess, will you two stop it? What, can't you accept the fact that sometimes people don't stay completely messed up forever?" Immediately, she regretted the harshness of her tone, and rubbed a hand across her own face. "Sorry. Sorry. I just... I think I'm getting better, okay? I think I'm finally getting better, and running away from Raimey isn't going to help that. In fact, everything I was taught in all those expensive college psychology courses tells me that it would make things worse."
"And Tara?" Buffy asked gently, studying Willow from across the table.
"I know she's dangerous," Willow said tiredly. "I know I can't trust her, and I don't. I know she was probably planning on using me for some... I don't even know, some mob plot or whatever. I know that. Just... I want to make sure she's safe. Okay? I want to know she's gone, and that she made it all right." Xander glanced to Buffy, and then nodded sharply.
"Then that's what we'll do. Look, if she doesn't call us in half an hour, I'll go to the airport myself and see what's up."
"Meanwhile," Buffy said, "we're going to have to figure out how to make FBI-san over there a little bit happier, because right now, she's about ready to drug you herself just so you'll let her get you someplace safe."
"Well," Willow began, but broke off at the low, humming buzz of her cell phone. "Shit. It's probably my editor, wondering what the hell I've been doing for the past week other than finishing his book..." She pulled the phone out of her pocket, scooting back from the table and rising to answer the phone. "Rosenberg."
Willow froze, then swung around to face Buffy and Xander. She jerked her head towards the hallway that led upstairs, away from Henderson and the rest of her agents. The other two rose, frowning, and followed her out of the room. Willow waited until they were safely out-of-hearing before turning, wrapping her free arm around her abdomen, and speaking into the phone.
"Raimey." At that, Buffy stiffened, glancing back towards where the FBI were situated. Willow shook her head, mouthing the word 'wait'. "What do you want?"
"We have unfinished business between us, Doc."
"I think you have more unfinished business between yourself and my friend with the handgun than you do with me," Willow replied, and though her hand was shaking, her voice was not.
"Maybe so. But I think you'll come around soon enough. Just as soon as I inform you of my little prize, over here." Xander, leaning in close to hear what was being said, furrowed his brow, but said nothing.
"Keep talking," Willow told Raimey. "You're being traced."
"No, I'm not," he countered simply. "Though I will tell you where I am. After all, I want nothing more than for us to meet up."
"Then tell me, Cole." He laughed.
"Are you trying to connect with me? Willow? Are you trying to break through, still? I thought the flames would have convinced you that wasn't going to happen."
"I'll hang up," Willow threatened, and Buffy put an arm around her shoulders, shaking her head, wanting to hear.
"Fine. Hang up. I suppose your girlfriend isn't as much a priority as I suspected." Now, Willow's mouth opened, but no sound came out. Buffy let her go, hand going instinctively to her holster.
"Fuck," the blond cop whispered.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Willow said, as calmly as she could.
"Oh, let's don't lie," Raimey said, cajoling. "We're past that, you and me." The emotion in his voice sounded fake, false, a bad actor trying to perform distracted. "Besides, you should be proud of yourself. She certainly is a beautiful woman. You have good taste. Not too bright, though: if she were smart, Tara would have left you before you even met. Then again, I suppose she couldn't have known that we two were... involved."
"We're not," Willow clipped out. "Where is she?"
"With me, of course. We have a history, as well, you know. Maybe an even more telling one than yours and mine, come to think of it. I do seem to have rubbed off on her."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Wouldn't you like to know? That's your job, isn't it? Find things out. Figure me out."
"What have you done with her?"
"Nothing. Yet. She's just a prop, so you'd better play your part, Doctor Rosenberg. Come to the Motel 7 off High and Morgan. Room 14. And Willow?" She didn't fill his pause. He didn't intend her to. "Come alone. You can imagine, I'm sure, what I'll do to her if you don't."