Chapter 1: I'm Gonna Bring You Back
Welcome To The Slaughterhouse
Chapter 1: I’m Gonna Bring You Back
Tara was almost asleep when someone knocked on her door. As she stumbled out of bed and put her robe on, she wondered who it might be; Willow had had to go to her parents for some family thing and promised to make it up to her. She checked the clock; just after 11 PM. Her birthday was in an hour, and she sighed. Since her mother died, no one had really bothered to remember it, so she wasn't exactly surprised, but... Another knock on the door shook her out of her thoughts. She opened the door.
Instinctively, she shied away as her father stepped into the room. Over the last six months she'd been so happy she'd almost forgotten about her family, like it was all some nightmare. She'd thought she'd gotten away clean, she'd dared to believe that she might actually have a chance at a good life. Now it all came crashing down, and she felt like she was going to faint.
Her father glared at her. "I said 'Hello, Tara'."
"That's more like it." He checked his watch as he dumped an empty suitcase on the floor in front of her. "I guess I got here just in time. I'd say happy birthday, but we both know it's not going to be a happy one. Pack your stuff, the car's waiting and I don't intend to spend a minute more than I have to in this place."
She stared at the floor, couldn't bear to look at him as she decided. He'd pushed her around long enough. "No."
"What was that?"
"N-no, Sir. I'm not c-coming with y-"
The punch caught her square on her cheekbone, the entire room spun around and when she tried to take a step backwards she realized she was lying on the floor. She'd forgotten how badly he could hurt her, the nausea, the helplessness. He bent over her, grabbed her by the hair and slapped her sharply to make sure she didn't pass out. She whimpered at the thought of having to go back. "No... p-p-please don't make me..."
"I was going to give you a chance to redeem yourself, Tara. You ran away from your home, leaving me and your brothers to fend for ourselves, but I was going to be the bigger man" — he slapped her again — "and let you come along of your own free will. But if this is the way you want it..." Her entire head hurt as he pulled her to her feet by her hair. He landed another punch in her gut, holding her up so she couldn't even double over. "Now. Pack. Your. Stuff. And don't get any ideas, Donnie's right outside your window. Are you going to co-operate, or do I need to..." Slowly, she nodded. "What's that, Tara?"
"Y-y-yes Sir. Tha-hank you, Sir."
"Please..." Tara indicated her bathrobe. "Could you just let me get dressed?"
Her father sneered at her, thought about it then turned his back and averted his eyes like a good Christian. "Like anyone would want to see you naked anyway." As Tara picked up her clothes, she managed to find a scrap of paper in one pocket.
* * *
Willow reached her girlfriends' dorm room at exactly midnight, feeling positively giddy. Of course, she'd planned this carefully. Making Tara think she'd forgotten her birthday had made her feel awful, but she figured in about thirty seconds all of that would be forgotten. She had wine, she had presents, and she had some very naughty ideas on how to start what she figured would be Tara's best birthday ever.
As she used her key to open the door and sneak inside, she noticed how still everything was. She knew Tara usually went to bed early, but... something felt wrong. In the moonlight from the window, she saw drawers pulled open, clothes scattered every which way and an empty bed. "Tara?" Instantly worried, she put the presents down and ran into the corridor to check the bathroom. Empty. She came back to her lover's deserted room, and after a few minutes of searching found a note that chilled her to the bone. It was Tara's handwriting, but not her usual polite script; this was written quickly by someone who only had a few seconds to sum up everything she felt.
DAD FOUND ME
LOVE YOU ALWAYS
Willow's knees buckled and she tumbled onto the bed, curling up around Tara's discarded bathrobe and breathing in her scent as she fought the tears. Then a determined look came on her face and she stood up.
* * *
It was late, but within forty minutes the gang had met up at Tara's room. Willow had explained and got very upset when everyone didn't immediately drop everything to go running after Tara.
"Look, Will..." Buffy, who had only found out 24 hours ago that her sister wasn't real and that something very powerful was after them both, really didn't need to cope with this as well. "Are you sure she's really in trouble?"
"Gee, I don't know, Buff. She ups and runs away in the middle of the night telling me to forget her — oh, I'm sure it's NOTHING!"
"And you're sure... I mean... sometimes things just don't work out, you know. Maybe she just went home to think things through... You've only known her for —"
"How long did you know Angel before you risked your life to save his?" Willow snapped, waving the paper in Buffy's face. "Look at this. READ it. This isn't I'm-tired-of-my-gay-experimentation-phase, this is my-crazy-psycho-dad-is-taking-me-away-for..." She couldn't finish that sentence, and looked to her oldest friend.
Xander tried for a sensible solution, turning to Giles. "Can't we call the police? This is kidnapping, isn't it?"
"Strictly speaking, I'm not sure it is. Tara isn't 21 yet, and we can't prove they've taken her against her will..." Giles took his glasses off. "Willow, he's her father. As much as it pains me to say it, how terrible could he be? What do you actually know about her family?"
"A-almost nothing", Willow admitted. "I know her mother died three years ago, and that she has three older brothers. But the way she gets when she mentions them... Giles, they've hurt her. Bad. I don't need her to tell me any details to know that. Look, I'm going after her, that's all there is to it. I wish you'd help me, but if you won't, I'll go alone."
Xander quietly got up and put his arm around her, not having to say it out loud. He was in. Anya sighed, but didn't object. Buffy exchanged a look with Giles. After all, she could bring Dawn along, and her mother's health scare from a couple of days ago seemed to be cleared up... part of her didn't mind putting a few miles between herself and whoever that woman was who had beat her up last night. "You're right, Will, I'm sorry. If you think Tara's in danger, of course we'll find her. We'll leave in the morning. Do you know where they live?"
"No." Willow's resolve face remained, but with a hint of gratitude. "But give me ten minutes with a computer and I'll have an address."
* * *
The next morning they set out in a van they'd borrowed from one of Xander's colleagues. Willow hadn't been able to find an actual address, just the name of a farm, but they figured once they got there they'd ask around. They'd brought some weapons, just in case people didn't want to answer.
As the van rolled East and the hours rolled by, everything settled into a pattern; Giles and Buffy up front bickering and discussing slayage, Anya and Dawn in the middle basically annoying each other and looking out the windows at the passing landscape, and Xander and Willow in the back. Willow had brought the doll's eye crystal Tara had given her on the night she'd first told her how she felt, and she kept twirling it around her fingers as she stared angrily out the window wishing Giles could drive faster. Xander would try to lighten the mood occasionally, but mostly he was just there for her. After several hours, he pointed out the window at the sign beside the road.
"Cheer up, Will. It won’t be long now. See? Here we are!"
They both looked at the sign as they passed into the county where Tara had grown up.
WELCOME TO MUERTO COUNTY, TEXAS
Home of the best darn beef in the world!
Chapter 2: Sweet Hitch-Hiker
Chapter 2: Sweet Hitch-hiker
Buffy felt ready to die any second. When she'd agreed to help Willow check up on Tara (she still didn't believe it would take more than a visit to either convince Tara's family to let her come back, or to assure Willow that everything was alright) she certainly hadn't expected to have to suffer like this. Anything else — say, fighting an unstoppable demon in a red dress — seemed like a picnic compared to the torture she was being subjected to right now.
She had brought CDs along for the trip, but as it turned out the van didn’t have a CD player and the tapes in the glove compartment were perfectly suited to Giles’ taste. And as if it wasn't bad enough that he was listening to it, now he was even singing along. Buffy winced and finally blurted out: "Could you STOP that? Please?"
Giles looked at her, a little amused. "You really should be listening to this, you know. Your taste in music could stand some improvement, and unlike most of what you listen to these people actually have talent and play their own instruments."
"This isn’t music, Giles, this is the sound old people make when they prepare to mate! Besides, there are... um... Oh! News! Something could be happening that we need to know about. It's important to keep up with current events, you know!" Satisfied with that excuse, Buffy popped the Creedence Clearwater Revival tape out of the stereo and switched to radio.
"...though he was frequently described by movie fans as a ‘hack’. Again, our top story: up and coming Hollywood film director Marcus Nispel found brutally murdered. Police will attempt to determine the cause of death as soon as they've been able to find all pieces of him, which so far have turned up in several -"
"Mwaaaaah!" Buffy switched the radio off, disgusted. Why couldn’t the news be about something nice every once in a while? "Fine. Listen to your Lynyrd... Zeppelin or whatever."
Giles decided to give her a break. "Did you manage to reach Riley this morning?"
"No, but I left a message for him about where we’d gone and that we’d be back in a couple of days. I hate army hospitals."
"He did have open-heart surgery just a few weeks —"
"Yeah, I know, check-ups are of the good, but still... I don’t want them tinkering with him. Besides, it would be nice to have him along. Not that I think we need a trained soldier to scare a couple of farmers if it comes to that, but..." She stopped and sniffed the air. "GOD, what’s that smell?"
Within a few seconds, even the ones in the car who didn’t have enhanced Slayer senses were rolling up windows, gagging and repeating variations on Buffy’s question.
"Slaughterhouse", Anya said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Everyone stared at her. "What? I worked Chicago in the 19th century. The whole town smelled like this. There’s probably one... oh, look." She pointed at a huge hangar-like building coming up on the right side of the road, and nudged Dawn to make sure the teenager got some education out of this. "See there? That’s where they bring the cows in. Then they use a hammer to beat them to death. It’s really quite interesting. We could probably get a guided tour if you want, Dawn. You should wear boots, though, because all the blood and brains —"
Xander noticed Dawn and Willow turning greener in the face by the second and tapped his girlfriend on the shoulder. "Ahn, honey — as fascinating as that is, another time, OK?"
Willow thought she understood why Tara didn’t eat meat if she grew up close to a place like that. She almost said so out loud, but realized how Xander would interpret the "not eating meat" part — he couldn’t help it, he was a guy — and kept her mouth shut. As she looked ahead, something caught her eye. "Hitch-hiker."
The Slayer looked ahead and nodded. Sure enough, there was a man standing a hundred yards ahead with his thumb out. "Should we pick him up?"
"Ew. He's gonna smell like a slaughterhouse", Dawn objected.
"But he might know where Tara’s family lives." No one could argue with Willow's logic here, though there was a creepy undertone of panic to it.
And so they stopped and let the guy aboard. He was in his mid-20s with an attempted beard and piercing blue eyes, dressed for hard work and, yep, reeking of sweat and slaughterhouse. Dawn schooched over as far towards Anya as she could. "Much obliged, folks. Been workin’ since Pa dropped me off this mornin’, I’m way too tired to walk all the way home. Think y’all could take me there? It’s probably a few miles out of your way, but we'd be happy to invite you for dinner by way of compensatin'..."
"That’s most generous of you", Giles replied. "Though to tell the truth, we don’t know yet how far out of our way it would be. We’re looking for a place called Sawyer Farm, you wouldn’t happen to know where that is?"
"Sawyer?" The hitch-hiker seemed to think about it. "Sorry, don’t ring a bell. What would you folks be wantin’ to go there for?"
Willow leaned forward. "My girlfriend is there."
"Your girlfriend?" He did a double take. "Sorry, sugarpie, I don’t think we got any of your sort here. Not for long, anyway."
Willow swallowed the insult. "No, she’s from around here but moved a couple of years ago. Maybe you know her? Tara Maclay?"
"Tara Maclay?" His face split into a wide and vicious grin. "Know her? You might say that! Ain’t a man in this county don’t know her, and I do mean biblically — Tara Getlaid, we used to call her. We been wondering where she got to, barn dances just ain’t the same since she left..." He turned to the horrified Willow. "Honey, I know you deviants don’t care none for morals and family values, but at least have some standards when you sin. You’re way too pretty to go to hell over a cumslut like her. Take my advice and go back home to San Fra-" The tyres screeched as Giles stomped on the brakes, causing the hitch-hiker to smash his face into the back of Buffy’s seat. "OW! Fuck d’ya do that for?"
The Texan shot Giles an angry glare. "Y’all sure ‘bout that? That dinner offer's still standin'..."
Xander reached up from behind and grabbed him by the collar. "Get out before I hang you out the door by your full and manly beard and drag you along for the next ten miles."
Somehow the hitch-hiker managed to look righteous as he stepped out (helped by a little push from Dawn). As Giles peeled away leaving their passenger in a cloud of dust, Willow began weeping uncontrollably, and Xander hugged her. "Will, it’ll be OK. What he said about Tara..."
"That was a lie", she sobbed. "But why would he make something like that up..." She looked up at the others, furious and scared that they might have believed him. "You hear that, that was a lie, I know for a FACT she’s never, I-I was her first... God, Tara..." She began to cry again.
"Will, of course we know. He just... some people enjoy hurting others. It's got nothing to do with you or Tara." Buffy sincerely wished she would get to hit something soon.
Her sister opened her mouth to ask how Willow could be sure, but the stare from Buffy told her this was one of those things a 14-year-old wasn’t supposed to ask. Instead Dawn looked down on the floor and saw something. "Hey, look. He dropped his wallet." She opened it up and her eye caught on the first thing she saw. "Uh, Willow... you said Tara has brothers, right?"
Willow wiped at her eyes and looked at the name on the driver’s license Dawn handed her. Donnie Maclay. She clenched her teeth. "Turn around, Giles. Right now."
As Giles did a 180 to head back for Tara’s brother, he accidentally brushed against the radio’s on/off button and Joey Ramone’s voice filled the car.
Sitting here with nothin' to do
Sitting here thinkin' only of you
But you'll never get out of there
She'll never get out of there
I don’t care, woah, Texas Ch-
Buffy turned it off again. "God, what's with this thing?"
Chapter 3: No More Mr Nice Guy
Chapter 3: No More Mr. Nice Guy
The van eased to a halt on the side of the road where they'd kicked Tara's brother out, but of course there was no sign of him. Everyone got out to stretch their legs, hug Willow and decide what to do next. The sun was beating down, causing them to sweat and squint as they scanned their surroundings for any sign of where he might have gone.
"OK", Buffy started. "We didn’t see any other cars in the last half hour, so he probably didn’t hitch a ride with anyone else, which means the farm must be around here somewhere. Some of these backroads look kinda bumpy though, I'm not sure the van can handle them..."
"There’s also the matter of petrol", Giles pointed out. "Unless there’s a filling station within the next few miles, I don’t fancy the idea of driving up and down to every single farm... chances are we’ll be stuck with an empty tank."
Xander nodded and opened the rear hatch of the van to grab a few water bottles. "So we split up and go on foot. Ask around. Someone around here must know where the Maclays live."
"And if they've hurt her", Willow growled as she grabbed a battle axe from the trunk and almost toppled over from its weight, "I'll bash their friggin' heads in."
Buffy shook her head and easily pried the axe from Willow's fingers. "Will, listen to me. I’m afraid for Tara too, but there will be no bashing of anybody! These are human beings we’re dealing with, don’t forget that. Now, you and Giles go that way, Xander and Anya over there", Buffy gestured back and forth, "me and Dawn follow the road, and we meet up back here when it gets dark, OK?"
Apart from Willow shooting her a look no one had any objections, and so loading up on water and putting on various hats and baseball caps to shelter them from the blazing sun they set out in different directions.
* * *
Buffy walked along the side of the road, with Dawn trudging after her, bitching and whining about how she was tired and it was too hot to be walking and why couldn’t she have stayed at home anyway?
"Because it's not sa... because Mom needs to take it easy for a few days. And besides, this morning you were more than happy to miss school."
"That was before we got stuck in the Sahara desert. I wanna go home."
"Too bad. The only way you're getting home before we find Tara is by hitch-hiking." Buffy paused. "You're NOT gonna hitch-hike."
"I saw this movie once where a girl stopped cars by pulling up her shirt and showing her bra", Dawn grumbled. "I could do that if I wanted to. Tara had better be in trouble..." The second the words were out her mouth Dawn regretted them.
Buffy spun around and glared at her. "Don't you even joke about that!"
"Oh yeah, you’re one to talk! You don't even like Tara. You never even talk to her."
"I —" Buffy stopped herself and regarded her sister... no, wait, the girl she had always thought of as her sister... no, wait, not always, just a few weeks... God, this is tricky. "Dawn... it's not that I don't like Tara, I just... don't know her that well, she's so new to the gang and we never seem to find anything to talk about. But she's everything to Willow, and that makes her part of the family no matter what. Tell you what, once we get out of here I'll make an effort to get to know her better, OK?"
If there was any subtext to that, Dawn didn’t pick up on it. "Fine. Whatever. Let's just find her." She kicked at something on the side of the road, then leaned down and picked it up. "Buffy, what's thi... ewwww!" She tossed it away, disgusted, and Buffy walked over to look.
At first, she just saw a bundle of fur and bone, then she realized what she was looking at and almost threw up. The fur — and feathers — were a couple of small animals, mice and sparrows. They'd been tied together with barbwire and fixed to a couple of bones that looked... no way. They had to be from an animal, because seriously, what were the odds of finding human bones lying by the side of a Texas road? The bundle had obviously been lying here a while since at least two of the animals had started rotting, and as she held the thing, she saw white maggots squirming in the eyes of one of the mice. Incredibly, though, one of the birds was still alive and tweeted helplessly at her. Buffy stared at the contraption for a few seconds — she couldn't quite get rid of the idea that whatever sick mind did this, they must have considered it a work of art — before tossing it far into the bush. She took a few deep breaths, reached for the water bottle and splashed some in her face.
"Buffy... who would do something like that?" Dawn was almost as green in the face as her sister was.
"Dunno. Some sick kid, probably. Never mind." Buffy pointed up ahead to the nearest farm. "Let's see if they know where Tara's folks live."
They walked up to the main building and knocked. A kindly-looking woman in her mid-40s opened, wiping her hands on a towel. "Oh hi honey, what can I do you for?"
"Hi, sorry to bother you. We're looking for a friend who lives somewhere around here, but we can't seem to find her house, and I was wondering you know where it is?"
"Sure thing honey, I know just about every square foot of this county."
"Oh thank you! Her family name is Maclay, and they live on a farm called Sawy-"
All kindness disappeared from the woman's face in a heartbeat. "Never heard of it. Get off my property before I call the sheriff." The door slammed shut.
* * *
Giles and Willow had knocked on two farmhouses to ask directions, but both of the women they had talked to made it very clear that they had never heard of a place called Sawyer Farm or a Maclay family, no way, never, nuh-uh, nope, and then slammed the door in their faces. The sun was starting to sink in the west as Giles pointed across a field at another house. "Cannot be more than a mile away. I suggest we ask there and then go back to the car, it will be dark within the hour." He started across the field, then turned back to Willow who made no attempt to follow him. "Are you coming?"
Willow was still holding the doll’s eye crystal, and now she stared intently at it as she shook her head. Then she took off her backpack, sat down and started rummaging through it, coming up with a spellbook. Giles sighed and bent down beside her. "Willow, I really don’t think that's a good idea. I realize you're upset..."
She snapped at him. "UPSET?! This isn’t upset, Giles! This is angry, and scared, and frustrated, and tired, and scared, a-and I know I said that already, but you're all joking about music and planning field trips to meat factories while Tara might be getting... I mean, did you even SEE Wrong Turn? And I know you and Buffy are still freaked by me and Tara but could you please at least pretend to care?! If you want to go waltzing around Texas asking stupid questions, fine, but I'm going to find my girlfriend!"
"Willow..." Giles chose his words carefully. "No one is, uh, 'freaked'. I admit we all were at first, except perhaps Xander, but Tara is an extraordinary woman — even more so if what you say about her family is true — and what you two have is something wonderful. I think I can relate a little to what you must going through right now; I do have some experience in the matter, as you recall." She looked down and nodded slowly; he didn't have to mention Jenny or the summer he'd spent desperately trying to find Buffy after she ran away. "But that's exactly the reason why you shouldn't be using magic. Magic requires a calm mind, emotional control. If you were to attempt it in your current state you might end up hurting yourself or someone else. Now, if you want to fall apart I completely understand, but the rest of us are trying to help you and need to keep a cool head to do that." He wiped the sweat out of his eyes. "As far as possible in this weather."
Still not looking up, Willow ran her fingers over the pages of the spellbook before putting it away and getting to her feet with a deep sigh. "You’re right, I guess. I'm just tired. It's been a long day. OK, so we try one more house and then go back and decide what to do next." She didn’t need to add that she would have some ideas of what that might be.
* * *
"Finally", Anya muttered. She and Xander had been walking for miles before coming to the only farm they could find on their side of the road. Anya could understand why no one would want to live near these people, they didn't seem to take much care in keeping up appearences; the yard was littered with rusted cars, tractors and farm equipment which looked like it hadn't been used since Coolidge was in the White House. "I thought road trips were supposed to be fun, not sweaty and angsty."
"Yeah", Xander glared at her, "if I have any more fun today I don't think I'm gonna be able to take it. Hello? Anybody home?" He knocked on the screen door, which swung open with a creak revealing a hallway that smelled dirty and dusty. He walked inside. "Hello?"
"Xander, you probably shouldn't do that. Texans protect their homes with firearms, as is their right according to the —"
"Please, Anya, can the editorial wait? I'm just looking. Hellooo?" Xander walked along the hallway, looked up the stairs, and then checked the first room on the left. "Uh... Ahn, come look at this." They both walked into what looked like a gallery for artist demons. The whole room was filled with mobiles, sculptures and various constructions. All of them stunk like death, which made sense since they were made of body parts — mostly chickens and cows, mostly just bones, but feathers and rotting meat still clung to some of them. And some of them were...
Anya pointed at one of the contraptions. "Xander — those are human skulls." They both stared at it, fighting the gag reflex and too stunned to hear the floorboards creaking behind them.
"Oh no... I've been in this movie before. Everybody out of the pool." Xander turned around to leave - and found himself face to face with a huge man in the dirtiest work clothes he'd ever seen. Well, not exactly face to face, since the man's features were hidden behind a leathery mask that looked like... Xander had time to refuse to believe that the mask was made from an actual human face before the man raised a sledgehammer and brought it down on Xander's head, smashing his skull and killing him instantly.
Anya just stared as Xander's body collapsed, a gush of blood splashing out across the floor and ruining her sneakers. Before she had time to react, Xander's attacker grabbed her and started hauling her further inside the house. For a few seconds all she could feel was shock; everything
was happening too fast. She started screaming and trying to fight back as she was carried inside a room with a large butcher's table, brown from years of bloodshed, but the man was way too strong to even notice her fists pounding him. As he lifted her up, she looked behind her and had time to think that that meat hook looked way too rusty to pass inspection at any slaughterhouse she'd been to. The pain when she was impaled on it was so blindingly white she couldn’t even scream anymore. Time lost all meaning. When she opened her eyes again, the small part of her mind that wasn't busy screaming HURTS HURTS HURTS HURTS could only watch as the man tossed her dead boyfriend onto the table, fired up a chainsaw and started taking Xander's body apart.
Chapter 4: It's Just A Flesh Wound
Chapter 4: It’s Just A Flesh Wound
Dawn and Buffy got back to the van just as the sun sunk below the horizon, finding themselves alone there; another disappointment to cap a day spent failing to find out anything about Tara's family. Buffy turned on the van's headlights so the others would be able to find them easier.
"Don't worry, Dawn. They'll be back soon."
But an hour later she found herself rethinking that. There was still no sign of others, it had gotten completely dark, and Buffy was really growing concerned. Better go look for them. She realized she was hungry as well as tired; dinnertime had come and gone, and for all she knew, they were having a delicious meal in the Maclay’s kitchen right now... . She checked the weapons they’d brought along, taking a short sword just to be on the safe side; it couldn’t hurt to have something shiny to show off in case Tara’s family got violent. "OK, Dawnie, let’s go."
"No, Buffy, we can't go. What if they come back and we're not here?"
"Then they'll wait here until we get back. Dawn, this is Texas, not a hell dimension or anything, I’m sure they’re OK." Buffy walked to the edge of the road, wondering where they should check first. Willow and Giles could probably take care of themselves, so she decided to go in the direction Xander and Anya had gone off in. As the moon rose, bathing the countryside in pale light, Buffy and Dawn crossed the highway and disappeared into the woods on the other side.
* * *
When Willow and Giles turned up at the same spot a little while later, having gotten lost and spent about an hour walking in circles until they found the highway, they too found the car abandoned and decidedly lacking in Scoobyage, as Willow put it. "Great. So now what?"
"We wait", Giles sighed as he stretched out on the driver’s seat, feeling his joints groan. Not a young man anymore, Rupert.
And they did, Giles almost drifting off to sleep — it had been a long day — and Willow pacing nervously back and forth. They both snapped out of it about 20 minutes later when they heard the scream. It was so far away and so brief they only barely noticed it before it was over, but whatever it was it chilled them to the bone.
"Good Lord, what was that?"
"Giles... I don't think that was an animal."
Giles fidgeted with his glasses. "I’m sure it must have been, a-a coyote or a mountain lion or something, I’m told they can sound almost like..." He didn’t seem convinced. Something about it had sounded way too familiar.
"Oh this is ridiculous", Willow snorted and once again got out her spell book. "And don’t even try to talk me out of it, Giles. We’ve tried this yours and Buffy’s way and so far it’s gotten us a whole lot of nothing."
"And you're sure you're enough in control to..." The look from Willow, equal parts hurt and anger, shut that sentence down. "Right. So this is a... locator spell?"
"Well, technically it’s a guiding spell. Should get basically the same result, though." Willow read a page carefully, then sat down crossing her legs and focusing all her power on the doll’s eye crystal in her hands. She closed her eyes and pictured Tara’s face before she started chanting.
"Aradia, to you I plead
To take my hand and gently lead
By the trees that gently sway
By the stars that light our way
By the heavens dark above her
I beg thee, take me to my lover."
The flash when Willow disappeared into thin air was bright enough to blind Giles. He stumbled backwards, hit his head on the car door, fell and lay still. He had been unconscious for a while when a shadowy figure walked up to the van, tossed Giles in the back, hotwired it and drove off.
* * *
"Uh, Sis? Think you’re going to find the path again anytime soon?"
"This IS the path. I think."
"No, Buffy. This isn’t a path. Paths don’t have branches sticking out and poking people in the — OW!" They’d been trudging through the thickening woods for a while now. It was almost pitch dark and if Buffy hadn't been wearing white, Dawn would probably have lost sight of her ages ago. "I so don't think this is the right way. For all we know, this just goes on and on and we're going to be walking here until we die of —"
"There. See? Happy now?" Buffy interrupted her and pointed to the dirt road that appeared in front of them. "Told you this was a shortcut." They pushed through the last few bushes and got on the road — only to discover that they weren't alone. About 50 yards ahead, a large man was walking towards them. With only the moonlight they couldn't see much of him, but it looked like he was carrying something.
"Hello?" Buffy called out. "Look, I hope we're not trespassing or anything, it's just that we're looking for some friends and I guess the woods are thicker than we thought and —"
WRRRRRRM. The chainsaw roared to life, ripping the countryside silence to shreds.
"O...K. Look, I appreciate it if you wanna clear a path for us, but really, we got it covered. Thanks, though." Buffy slowly started backing away, pulling the sword out of its sheath just in case. But the man kept closing in, moving way too fast for her taste, and what the hell is with his FACE? Oh, this is not good. This is very far from good. Good has left the building and is boarding a plane to Kuala Lumpur, and I wish I could go with it. "Dawn, run back to the car!"
"NOW!" Buffy quickly looked back at Dawn, giving her a quick shove in the other direction, but there was no time for her to check if Dawn was following orders before Leatherface bore down on her, screaming something unintelligible and waving his chainsaw back and forth in a way that was way too unpredictable for Buffy's taste. She barely managed to duck, feeling the draft as the spinning blade passed just past her ear. The swing carried him forward and she felt him tug violently at her, then stumble and lose his balance. The chainsaw sputtered and stalled as he went sprawling, Buffy saw her opening and raised the sword to —
No she didn’t. Huh. No sword. Did I drop it?
She looked down on the ground and spotted the blade by the moonlight it reflected. Huh. Weird. How could she still be holding on to the sword when it was lying three feet away from her? Because she could clearly see her hand gripping it. She stared at it for a couple of seconds before her brain did the math and concluded that yes, that was her hand holding the sword, and her arm attached to the hand, and... then the pain kicked in and she started screaming as she looked down on herself and realized her right arm ended in a geyser of blood just below the shoulder. Instinctively she tried to stop the bleeding with her left hand, but the chainsaw had made a complete mess of the wound and it was like trying to stop a river with a sieve.
Dawn hadn’t run far when she heard Buffy scream and turned back. It was too dark for her to see exactly what was happening, but it was obvious that Buffy was badly hurt and that Leatherface wasn’t. In fact, he was just getting up again. The chainsaw came back to life on the first pull. "BUFFY! Look out!"
Buffy blinked, absently wondering how Dawn could already have gotten so far away that she could barely hear her when everything else was moving so slowly. She turned just in time to duck the next swing from Leatherface’s weapon. He rammed her with all of his 300-odd pounds, stumbled again and pinned her down. Somehow she managed to kick him off her and lurched to her feet as fast as she could, but her head was spinning and she had to take a few extra steps back to steady herself. Through a deep red fog, she could see Leatherface raise the chainsaw and prepare to attack...
...then Dawn stepped between them, wielding a branch barely two feet long. "GET AWAY FROM HER!"
And Leatherface, incredibly, stopped. He lowered the chainsaw, cocked his head and looked at the young girl like he’d never seen anything like her before. "Eeen?" He took a hesitant step forward and reached out with his free hand as if to touch her.
"NO, Dawn, get... out of here!" Buffy grabbed her sister with her left arm and, using all her remaining strength, tossed her as far into the dense vegetation as she could. Ever the warrior, even despite the pain and blood loss she then tried to pick the sword up to continue fighting, but reflexes take time to adapt and her body automatically tried to use the right hand she no longer had. She forced herself to think — it was becoming harder by the second — and switch hands, but turning around to do that took a second she didn't have. As she grabbed the sword and looked up to face her killer, all she had time to see was an extreme closeup of the revving sawblade - and then she never saw anything again. For a fraction of a second, she managed to register the pain as the blade eradicated the top half of her face and Buffy's last scream blended together with the howl of the rusty Poulan 306A. Then it dissolved into a bubbling moan as the saw dug its way into her brain.
* * *
This chapter was brought to you by Poulan - the premier manufacturer of durable, high performance and affordable chain saws. With innovation like our SuperClean® system and exclusive features such as our DuraChrome® cylinders make our saws run smoother, cleaner, and longer.
Chapter 5: Run Through The Jungle
Chapter 5: Run Through The Jungle
Fall. Get up. Right foot. Left foot.
Dawn ran for her life, not looking back, her head pounding with one single thought. The branches and brambles tore her clothes and scratched her arms, but she kept running. Buffy's dead. She didn't want to believe that. She wanted to turn back and check. Her sister was the Slayer, she'd beaten vampires, demons, werewolves, robots, the US government for Pete's sake; no way she could have been killed by a redneck with a chainsaw. No way.
And still she knew. That last scream of agony and horror, the way it had been cut off, the muffled chugga-chugga-chugga as the saw cut into... No. She couldn't have survived that. Buffy's dead. And it's my fault. Buffy had been killed, and what did she do? Run. She might not have been able to save Buffy, but she could at least have tried. She shouldn't have died alone. But that scream... it must have been incredibly painful. Dawn loved her sister, she couldn't imagine a life without her, but that was too much. She couldn't face that.
Dawn kept running.
She ran until she hit the dirt road on the other side of the trees, and then she kept on running, the night air burning her lungs with every breath, her legs working on pure adrenaline, her eyes so itchy with tears that at first she didn't notice the headlights coming towards her. Not until she heard the brakes screeching did she realize that the van had almost run her down. "GILES!" She pounded on the driver's side door. "GILES! It's... We need to..."
The door flew open, knocking her flat on her back. "Why hi there, missy. Nice to see you again." Donnie jumped out from the driver's seat and kneeled over her. "Lost in the woods, are ya?"
"Please", Dawn sobbed. "You have to help me. PLEASE. Buffy is... there was a guy with a... a ch-chainsaw... he... and she... oh God... she's d-d-"
"Chainsaw, huh? Well that ain't right. Maybe you had better come with me up to the house and we'll sort this thing out." He opened the back door and Dawn barely had time to notice Giles lying unconscious inside before something hit her in the back of her head and she went out like a light. Donnie tossed her in with Giles and drove on, cursing his brother's sloppiness; if the girl had gotten away, they could have been in real trouble.
* * *
Tara woke with a start. She wasn't sure what had woken her up — some sort of loud noise that was over before she was conscious enough to know what it was. At first she was disoriented, but then the pain returned; both the physical pain and the knowledge that she was back in the house where she'd grown up and that her life was essentially over. For a few minutes, all she could do was stare into the darkness. Finally she switched on the light and flinched when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror; one eye completely shut, her lip swollen, blood caking under her nose... Her father had done a pretty good job. Oh well, she thought as she quickly turned the light off, It's not like anyone's going to care how I look anymore. And that set her off again. She buried her face in her pillow and let it all out. She cried so hard it was several minutes before she noticed the tapping on the window.
When your room is on the second floor, you really don't expect to see people outside it. You especially don’t expect to see a leg hanging down outside it, the boot at the end of said leg tapping anxiously on the window pane. Tara stared for a few seconds before she realized that she recognized that boot. But that was impossible. She jumped up, ran to the window and pulled down the top half. "Willow?!?"
"Hey. Little help here?" Her girlfriend was on the roof above her window, holding on to the ceiling tiles while dangling her leg off the roof looking for support.
"Why... h-h-how...?" Tara grabbed Willow's leg and guided it onto the top of the lower window half, then grabbed on to the other as Willow eased herself down off the roof.
"Spell went wonky. One second I'm talking to Giles, next I'm on this roof. You got me?"
"I-I-I got you... careful..." As Tara held on and pulled - Don't fall. Don't fall - more and more of Willow appeared in the window until she rather ungracefully tumbled into the room and Tara's arms.
Willow hugged her tight, covering her face with kisses. "I found you... I knew I would." When she noticed Tara wincing in pain, she took a step back and gasped as the moonlight fell on her lover's face. "Oh, baby, what did they do to you?"
Tara instinctively looked down, trying to hide behind her hair, ashamed of how weak she was and scared of what Willow would think of her. But Willow carefully put her hand to Tara's cheek and made her look up.
"Don’t worry, Tara. I'm not going to let those bastards hurt you again. Ever."
She leaned in and kissed Tara as gently as she could. Tara kissed her back, then suddenly froze and pushed her away with a horrified expression on her face. "No. You can't... w-why did you come here?"
"Um... I was sorta hoping the kiss gave it away?"
"No, Willow, you d-d-don't understand..." Tara backed away from her. "You have to get out of here. Didn't you get my n-n-note?"
Willow couldn't help feeling hurt by the rejection. "Well, yeah. That's kinda how we knew where to look for you. I mean, you're not saying you LIKE living like this, do you?"
"No, but... Will, my family, they're... they're dangerous."
"Hey, fighting danger for four years now, remember?" Willow's look of concern shifted to one of determination and not just a little anger. "Besides, I can be pretty darn dangerous myself when someone hurts someone else and that someone else is someone who means more to me than anyone else." She kissed Tara's forehead and took her hand. "Come on, let's..."
Just then the door to Tara's bedroom opened and Donnie walked in. "Hey, Tare, you'll never guess what me and Bubba found out in the-" He froze in the doorway, his grin widening. "Awww, ain't that sweet? So she got in here somehow? HEY, PA, COME LOOK AT THIS!"
Willow turned to face him, her fists clenching. "I'm taking Tara out of here. Get out of our way, or..."
"Or what, li'l lady?" Donnie chuckled, demonstratively putting his hands on the doorframe, blocking their exit. "You shouldn't be so cocky without your friends to back you up, if you pardon my French. That's what gets little girls hurt."
"I was so hoping you'd say that." Willow grinned coldly and closed her eyes, ignoring Tara's attempt — No, Will — to dissuade her. "Hecate, Diana, Nyx, Make mine enemies retire; Let them feel your lashes' licks; Make them cower and perspire; Or drench them in the river Styx and burn them in eternal fire..." She looked up at Donnie, her eyes black. "Now MOVE!"
Absolutely nothing happened.
Well, except for Donnie laughing. "That was kinda cute. Not my kind of poetry, I mean you're no Charlie Daniels, but still."
Willow looked to Tara, puzzled. "I don't get it, that was supposed to work...?"
"I think you'll find that magic is useless here", Tara's father said as he stepped up behind Donnie, who let him pass into the room, "When you live with witches, one of the first thing you learn is how to make them defang themselves. I had my wife put up a protection spell on this place years ago to keep all magic down. Now, Tara..." He turned to his daughter. "I don't know if you've been keeping up with your Bible studies, so here's a quiz. Complete the following sentence: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to...?"
"Please, Pa..." Tara tried to face him, tears in her eyes. "Let her go. I'll stay here, I promise, I'll never leave again, just d-d-don't hurt her."
"EEEEEE! Sorry, wrong answer." Donnie walked up to them, grabbing Willow and dragging her kicking and struggling from the room. Donnie wasn't a big guy, but he'd spent years in manual labor whereas Willow's strength had never been physical.
"NO!" Tara tried to run after them, but her father stepped in her way and pushed her to the floor.
"Don't make me hurt you again, Tara. You've done quite enough to mess up the family business already." He walked out the door, turning back as he started closing it. "After all, a family is supposed to share fairly, don't you agree? It can't be right that you're the only one who gets to eat her." He locked the door behind him.
* * *
Author's note: Just in case anyone's wondering - there WILL be some comeuppance for the bad guys eventually. But this IS a slasher movie, after all.
Chapter 6: Squeal Like A Pig
Chapter 6: Squeal Like A Pig
"No, Pa, PLEASE, LET HER GO!"
As Willow was dragged along the corridor, from behind her she heard Tara's father slam the door and Tara scream and she wanted to reply, tell Tara not to worry, she'd be back as soon as she could, but Donnie's hand over her mouth made it impossible. She tried to get loose, but it seemed Tara’s brother had done this sort of thing before; somehow he'd manage to grab her in a way that locked both her arms and kept her just enough off balance so she couldn't kick.
"You take good care of our guest, now, son", Tara's father called out as he went into one of the other rooms.
"You got it, Pa."
Willow bristled, too angry to be scared. Oooh, just you wait until I come back with Buffy. You'll wish you... hey, why are we going UPstairs? Indeed, instead of taking her downstairs and throwing her out, Donnie was now pulling her up a rickety staircase at the end of the hallway. Just what the heck was
(my family, they're... they're dangerous)
going on here? Half-fullness of glass: rickety staircases have railings. She hooked her feet around one of the posts and yanked as hard as she could as Donnie pulled her in the other direction, forcing him off balance, and as he shifted his grip she bit down hard on his hand.
"OW! You fuckin' bitch!"
He lost his hold and she got free, but before she could get away he kicked her hard in the ass and she went tumbling down the steps. She hit her head and within seconds he was on her again, pinning her down.
"OK, nice try, girly, I'll give ya that. Guess that answers who wears the pants between you and my sis. Ya smack her around too? She likes that, 's I recall. Least I never heard her complain."
Willow stared up at him, furious. "Then I guess when Buffy gets here, we'll see if it's a family trait."
"Buffy?" Donnie grinned. "That the li'l blonde? Because if I were you, I wouldn't hold my breath. My brother done took care of her. Said she had a big knife or somethin' and still put up less of a fight than you're doing right now. But enough talkin', dontchathink?"
"Wha...?" Willow's head was already spinning when he punched her, and she didn't struggle when he started dragging her back up the stairs by her upper arm.He's lying. He's gotta be. OK, so Buffy wasn't taking this very seriously, but still...
Donnie still kept talking. "Now, I seem to recall invitin' you over for dinner earlier, and no one's goin' to say we don't take care of our guests here. We been in the meat trade for generations, and we never really bought into all them modern methods they use in the slaughterhouses these days... prefer to do it the ol-fashioned way. 'Course, since the cows died, we have to make do with whatever meat we can find..."
They reached the top of the stairs, another corridor with a couple of doors, and Donnie's talking trailed off as he noticed Willow dizzily fumbling with something in her pocket. "Whatcha got there?" He yanked her hand out and forced it open. The doll's eye crystal. "Hey! Where the fuck d'ya get this? This was my mom's!" He backhanded her painfully into one of the walls. "You a thief too, huh? I guess I'm really going to enjoy this. HEY! OLD MAN! WAKE UP!" Donnie grabbed her again, kicking one of the doors open. "Hey Grandpa, we're gonna let you have this one!"
The stench in the small room he dragged Willow into was overpowering, making her gag. Her first thought was that it had to come from the corpse sitting in a chair in the middle of the room, but then it... he lifted his head and she realized that though the man was ancient, dirty and seemingly barely conscious of his surroundings, he wasn't quite dead. The best proof of this being that the stench came from him sitting in several weeks' worth of his own filth.
Donnie followed her gaze. "Yeah, no one can really be bothered to help him with that. That'll be your girlfriend's job once everything's back to normal. First I'll let you two get acquainted — don't worry, it's been a while, but Grandpa's still the best the slaughterhouse ever had. It won't hurt... much." He ran his fingers through her hair almost tenderly, stopping at the back of her neck. "Right here. Right above the brainstem. One crack o' the hammer and you'll be out like a light." This, of course, is where Willow started struggling and screaming for help, which only earned her another suckerpunch. Donnie put his hand over her mouth and held on to her as he dragged a large metal bucket towards the chair with his foot, picked up a small sledgehammer from it which he handed to the old man and then bent her over the bucket. "Show'er how it's done, Grandpa! Bash the bitch's head in and I'll make sure you get the best bits!"
The senile old man looked at the scene in front of him with dull eyes, not seeming to comprehend. He dropped the hammer once and Donnie had to hand it to him again. He swung feebly, only brushing against Willow's head, but on the third attempt he actually managed to land a decent hit... on Donnie's hand. The young man yelped in surprise and let go of Willow for an instant that she did not waste; she managed to worm free and as she scrambled backwards, her hand found something that had fallen on the floor.
Willow grabbed it and struck out at Donnie's face as he advanced on her, jamming it as hard as she could into his eye, feeling something pop and a warm liquid spurt out over her hand. The noise that came out of his throat started out as a puzzled "Huh?" and quickly mutated into a high-pitched wail as he fumbled blindly for her and toppled backwards, head-first into the bucket.
Something about the sound woke up old memories in his grandfather's cobwebbed brain. How he'd started out slaughtering pigs for his old man way back during the depression... somehow it seemed like only yesterday. The way the sun had beat down on his tanned skin, the way his muscles had ached after working for twelve hours straight, the way the pigs would always squeal in terror as they were held down, and then you'd just grab the hammer hard and... The hammer came down with force this time, cracking Donnie's skull like an egg. Maclay Senior blinked in confusion as a jet of blood hit him square in the face, then licked his lips, relishing the taste.
For a few seconds Willow could only stare at the scene - the blood, the shit, Donnie's right foot twitching like a dying fish. Then she stumbled to her feet and didn't look back, just tore out into the hallway and down the stairs to Tara's room. She tried the handle, but the door was securely locked. "Tara?"
In her room, Tara jumped to her feet and ran to the door. "Willow? Oh thank Goddess, are you OK?"
"I..." Willow shook her head, feeling like she'd gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. "I think so. Do you know where your Dad keeps the key to this door? Because I could try and break it down, but-"
"NO!" Tara thought she could feel her heart actually physically breaking, but she just couldn't bear the idea of Willow staying in this house a second longer. "Just go, Will, please, get out of here before they get a hold of you again. They won't hurt me any worse than they already have, but you they'd... please, just GO!"
Willow heard a door open further down the corridor, and for the first time she allowed herself to think rationally of what was happening. They had tried to kill her, actually really murder her, and... she clenched her teeth and pounded her fist on the door. "I'll be back, Tara. I'll get help and come back. I-I love you."
"I love you too, Will... so much... but please..."
And Willow was off towards the staircase leading down, trying to come up with a plan as she ran. Get outside. Get rid of the protection spell. Get Buffy, or Xander, or Giles. Get back in. Get Tara. Get her out. Get even. She still held on to the slimy crystal, feeling the power it held, both her own and Tara’s mother’s. As she half-ran, half-stumbled down the dark stairs she saw someone coming out into the hallway below, and as the other person stepped into the light of the single lightbulb down there and his face became visible, she breathed a sigh of relief.
"Xander, thank God! Come on, we have to get Ta..."
She froze. The figure in front of her definitely had Xander's face, but there was something... off about it. And his body. And the fact that he was wearing a red-soaked butcher's apron and carrying a huge knife... She went white as a sheet as she realized that the only Xanderness about the man blocking her way out of the house was her best friend's face, worn like an ill-fitting halloween mask over the big man's own, a stranger's eyes glaring at her through two empty holes where Xander’s eyes should be. Unsure if she was screaming, cursing or simply whimpering she ran for the door, trying to duck around the man who wailed some gibberish and struck out with the knife. Willow felt an intense pain in her stomach, did a full 360 on one of her heels before getting some kind of balance and darting out onto the porch, down the steps and finally hitting the ground hard out on the driveway.
She tried to get up, but the pain was too much; putting her hand to her belly she felt something warm, sticky and snakelike coming out and instinctively tried to push it back in as she struggled to remember what it was she was supposed to be doing, it was something important, what was it what was it what was it... she raised her eyes and looked up, seeing a dark window on the second floor. She hoped it was Tara's window and raised the hand not holding her guts in to it, as if to wave goodbye. The crystal grasped tightly in it began to glow and she remembered why she had been in such a hurry.
Willow gasped the word, almost inaudible, as if her body thought it was the last breath it would ever take and didn't want to let it out. The crystal glowed stronger, shone bright for a second, then blinked out again. And everything went dark.
Chapter 7: Protection
Chapter 7: Protection
"But if you hurt what's mine
I'll sure as hell retaliate"
- Massive Attack
After Willow ran off Tara sank to the floor, leaned her back against the doorframe and closed her eyes. She heard her girlfriend's footsteps disappear down the hall and fade away, and then she was once again completely alone.
The walls were thick in this house. For most of her childhood, that had been a source of comfort, something that made it possible to sleep; few of the screams from downstairs got in, and none of the sobs from in here got out. Now it felt like a curse — anything could be happening to Willow just downstairs and she wouldn't hear it, wouldn't know, wouldn't be able to help in any way. She couldn't handle that. She had to do something.
Crossing her legs and straightening her back, Tara tried to focus. She'd read lots of different protection spells over the years; some which were supposed to work, others which had not worked for centuries... she was too upset to recall any of them word for word, but of course magic didn't work in this house anyway as long as her mother's curse was still upon it, and as far as Tara knew that hadn't changed.
But maybe prayers did.
And so she improvised, mixing in bits and pieces of protection spells while calling on any reasonably benevolent Goddess she could think of — Isis, Artemis, Freya, Demeter, Minerva, Lakshmi... praying, pleading, begging, demanding, promising to do anything; to sacrifice, to give back to the Earth, even to stay here and take care of her family forever... just as long as Willow was safe from harm tonight.
* * *
Dawn awoke from unconsciousness slowly, as if drifting up from deep underwater. Even after she was fully awake, it was a long time before her shell-shocked brain remembered how to move her muscles. She looked at her surroundings; a dark basement, reeking of things she didn't want to think about, all sorts of junk strewn around... she wasn't tied up, but the door looked pretty tough. And of course, in one corner, there was Giles hunched over Willow's body. Dawn watched them for several minutes before she spoke. "Is she alive?"
Giles had checked Willow’s pulse at least a dozen times in the first hour after they threw her in with him and Dawn, but in the last two hours he hadn’t dared to. Now he steeled himself and once again put his fingers on her neck. Then he breathed a sigh of relief. "She’s fine." That was a lie, of course; apart from the very faint pulse, the hardly noticeable breath she'd draw now and then, and the steel grip she still held on a small bloodied object in her hand, Willow lay perfectly still and might as well be...
"She doesn’t look fine. She looks dead." Dawn's voice was oddly flat when she scooted over to Willow’s side. Before Giles could stop her, she lifted the blood-soaked shirt he had wrapped around the deathly pale redhead's belly. "Yup. Dead. No way she'll survive that."
Giles couldn't really disagree; after all, he could see right into Willow's innards, she had lost a huge amount of blood and he supposed she was slipping into coma territory; he honestly couldn't understand why she hadn't died hours ago. Still, part of him wanted to scream at Dawn for speaking so bluntly; while he'd been keeping watch over Willow, doing all he could (though it wasn't much) to keep her alive, that... THING masquerading as Buffy's sister had just been lying unconscious in a corner. And to add to his grief and confusion, part of him had been just as afraid for her as he was for Willow; after all, he had five years' worth of memories of Dawn growing up, and knowing they were false didn't mean they felt any less real. Until three days ago, he had thought of Dawn as one of his
charges, and as much as the Watcher in him wanted to look at her objectively as just another mission, the man in him couldn't. He bit back on his angry reply, gently re-dressed Willow's wound and then turned to Dawn. "How are you feeling?"
Dawn was still staring at Willow as if looking right through her, and now she hugged her own knees and rocked gently back and forth. "She's always taken care of me, Giles. My whole life. I was always so mean to her and she always took care of me and I-I was yelling at her and telling her she was going to get us killed and then I ran away and now she's dead and it's all my fault and I couldn't help her and she's dead and now we're all-"
"Dawn... what are you talking about?" Giles put his hands on the teen's shoulders to try and soothe her before she became completely hysterical. "She is not dead. We need to get her to a hospital soon, but if she's made it this long I'm sure she'll be fine." He didn't believe that himself, but he took Dawn's hand and placed her fingertips on Willow's neck. "See? She's alive."
"Not her. Buffy." Dawn looked as if she had just had to explain to him that 2+2=4. "Buffy's dead."
For the longest while Giles just stared at her. "No." He shook his head. "You're lying." He'd seen Dawn tell lies enough times
(no you haven't)
to know that she was telling the truth now, but he refused to believe it. "You're LYING!"
If Dawn felt him grabbing her harder and shaking her, she didn't show it. She just kept staring past him, sobbing and almost giggling with terror. "Big chainsaw. Wrrooooom. Can't get any deader than that. She screamed, Giles, she screamed, it hurt so bad that she screamed and I couldn't help her, I ran..."
If there had been any doubt in his mind that Dawn was telling the truth, he knew now. Maybe he'd known on some level ever since he and Willow heard the scream last night, but... before he realized what he was doing he had slapped Dawn. He wanted to hurt her, to expose her for the lie she was. "Shut up. Shut up. You don't get to... you're not even... you're just..." But when he looked into her shocked eyes he couldn't bring himself to say it. As it turned out, he didn't have time anyway.
"Spare the rod, spoil the child." They both looked up to see Tara's father standing in the doorway, a sawed-off shotgun in his hands and looking like he hadn't slept a wink; hair on end, murderous calm in his bloodshot eyes. "Glad to see you at least know how to discipline your daughter." He pointed to Willow. "She still alive?"
Giles judged the distance to the door; no way he could get to the man before he had time to turn the gun on him. "Yes."
"Good for you. That means you get to live until she's out of the woods, and you better pray hard she makes it. I take no pleasure in killin', there's just some things you gotta do, don't mean you have to like it..." Mr Maclay spoke through gritted teeth, but then his composure suddenly vanished as he pointed to Willow, his face a mask of grief and fury. "But that little WHORE killed my SON! As if it wasn't enough for her to corrupt my daughter... dying's too good for her! As God is my witness, she's going to suffer for a long time before I put her out of her misery and send her to the hell where she belongs!" Calming down somewhat, he turned to Dawn. "As for you, though, young lady... we were going to keep you. Donnie is... was looking for a wife, and he thought you'd make a good one. Of course, now that he's... he's... we don't really have any use for you. BUBBA!"
The doorway darkened as Leatherface entered, a sledgehammer in his hand. His father pointed to Dawn while keeping the shotgun aimed at Willow and Giles. "Kill her."
Seeing Buffy's killer coming towards her, Dawn lost it completely. She scrambled madly backwards on all fours, screaming, pleading and whimpering, unable to form a coherent thought. Leatherface raised his hammer... and then stopped and lowered it again, as if confused.
His father cleared his throat. "Bubba, you know I don't like repeating myself." Leatherface answered in an anxious stream of gibberish that only served to anger Mr Maclay further. "What do you mean 'pretty green glow'? KILL the little bitch!" He walked up to Leatherface and slapped him hard. "I thought I'd beaten that nonsense out of you years ago. As long as you're under my roof you live by my rules, and when I tell you to kill, you kill!"
Leatherface cowered and didn't meet his father's stare, looked at Dawn as if in awe and still refused to go any closer to her. Furious, Mr Maclay slapped him again. "You're useless! Get out of here, go make dinner or something. I'm ashamed to call you my son." As Leatherface slinked out of the basement, his father cocked the shotgun and pointed it at Dawn. "That's family for you, always a disappointment. If you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself."
But he had taken his eyes off Giles. And when the Brit got to his feet, it wasn't as a Watcher trying to protect a mystical Key; Watchers aren't supposed to be soldiers or bodyguards, not supposed to throw themselves in front of guns. Watchers take care of their Slayers, teach them, keep them in the game until they die, and then their job is done.
A father's job, on the other hand, is never done as long as one of his children is alive, and adopted fathers are no different. Giles tackled Maclay head-on and Dawn kept screaming as the gun went off and she was splattered with both men's blood.
Chapter 8: Nobody Messes With My Girl
Chapter 8: Nobody Messes With My Girl
At some point, Tara's prayers faded and she leaned back against the door, drifting off to tired half-sleep and a dream...
Everyone stopped talking and Xander scooted over on the couch as Buffy came back into Giles' living room. "So, what's the news from LA, Buff?"
The Slayer plopped down beside him, shifting uncomfortably and not meeting anyone’s eyes. "25 to life. She pleaded guilty to everything."
The gang took this in in silence, except Dawn who sat up straight. "25 years? That's it? Faith gets to kill a bunch of people and she's out before she's Mom's age?"
"They said there were, uh, midisomething circumstances." Buffy kept fidgeting with the portable phone. "There was some stuff... about her childhood."
"Oh dear." Giles looked at her with concern. "Did they say-"
"I'll tell you later." Buffy very obviously avoided looking at her little sister, who rolled her eyes and snorted with derision.
Tara wasn't surprised but still cringed inside when Willow mirrored Dawn's reaction. "I'm sorry, but I officially don't care. If you're old enough to kill people, you're old enough to take responsibility for it yourself instead of blaming it on 'Mwaaah, my parents didn't love me'. I say good riddance to her."
Buffy didn’t answer. Tara still was not completely clear all that had happened between the two Slayers — Faith was a very sore spot with Willow — but the tension in the room was thick enough to cut with a knife. "Buffy? A-are you OK?"
For a few seconds, Buffy just kept staring at her hands. Then she looked up at her watcher. "Giles, you have to talk to the council. I mean, if something happens to me... there has to be a Slayer, and no matter what Faith did, I don't want them to..."
Giles put his hand on her shoulder. "I'll try. I don't know if I have any pull with them anymore, but I'll try."
"What do you mean ‘if something happens’?" Dawn cut in. "Nothing happens to you, you’re the Slayer."
"No I’m not." Buffy finally looked at her sister. "Dawnie, I haven't been THE Slayer in three years. I'm a... a... parrot box?"
"Paradox." Giles corrected her automatically.
"Right. I did my time and the line passed to Kendra. If I die —"
"You're not going to die!" Dawn's volume knob was turned up to about eight now, and all treble and tremble.
"If I die again, Dawn, we can't be sure that anyone takes my place. The only way there’ll be a Slayer then is either if they let Faith out or if they... and they've tried to kill her before."
"So have you!" The thirteen-year-old, very upset by now, didn’t sound like she thought this was a particularly bad idea. "The heck with Faith, Buffy, you’re the Slayer and you're not going to die, so stop talking about-"
Buffy put her hands over her ears. "GOD, Dawnie, shut UP! You're the only person I know who can whine in frequencies that only dogs can hear!"
Tara awoke knowing it wasn’t a dream. That exact scene had taken place about a week after the scoobies had defeated Adam, and had been one of few bleak spots on an otherwise blissful summer; she and Willow had had their first almost-spat afterwards when Tara had suggested that maybe Willow didn't have to spend the whole day reciting The Evil Deeds Of Faith, Parts I-XXV, and that sometimes there could be more to it than just "my parents didn't love me" — something Willow had refused to even discuss. And Dawn had sulked for days even though no one brought up the possibility of Buffy maybe not living to 106 around her again. Tara hadn't thought about it since, but the dream was vivid — so vivid, in fact, she thought she could still hear Dawn pleading hysterically.
Then she sat up straight from where she'd fallen asleep by the door and realized it wasn't the dream. The wails were coming from inside the house — very faint, separated from her by a couple of thick walls, but loud and high-pitched enough that she could just about recognize them. Dawn was here, she was in trouble, and Tara was locked in here, helpless... BANG. She pounded her fist against the door in frustration. "Gods damn you, OPEN!"
There was a crack of splintering wood as the door flew open so fast that it ripped loose of its hinges and crashed into the opposite side of the hallway. One of the hinges did several surprised turns in the air before falling to the floor.
Tara got to her feet, staring in disbelief at the doorway. How...? She pointed at the fallen hinge. "Levitare." It rose off the carpet, hovering in mid-air until she let it drop again.
The protection spell was lifted.
And with the door gone, Tara could hear Dawn's sobbing cries from the basement clearly and didn't hesitate. She had gotten halfway down the stairs when she heard the noise of the old rusty meatgrinder; her brother was busy in the kitchen, which meant he wouldn't be paying attention to much else. Good. But that still meant she might have to get persuasive with her father and Donnie, and she had never learned much in the way of fighting magic. She needed protection... her eyes fell on something sitting on top of the table in the hallway. Oh yes. That should do.
* * *
In the basement, Dawn slowly managed to get a hold of herself and crept over to the two men lying still on top of each other. The pool of red that had formed around them was seeping slowly into the dirt floor. "Giles?" She grabbed the Englishman by the shoulder and shook him. "Giles, come o-" Then she yelped as Giles' body rolled over on its back, his unseeing eyes staring at the ceiling and blood trickling listlessly from the gaping red maw in his chest. The shotgun blast had more or less obliterated the left half of his chest and even though Dawn managed to look away, the image — bone fragments, flesh, blood around the hole in his undershirt — was burned into her eyes. Whimpering, she started crawling towards Willow, who had remained perfectly still throughout the whole thing, when she heard a wet cough behind her.
"Giles?" She turned around, hoping against hope. No, not Giles. At least part of the shotgun blast had hit the Texan and he was bleeding badly from his side and his left arm, but Mr Maclay was coming to, already fumbling for the gun. Dawn tried to get up, but her legs seemed to have gone on strike and wouldn't obey her.
"You... little... bitch." Maclay panted as he sat halfway up against the wall, cracked the shotgun open and started rifling through his pockets for shells. "You'll pay for that." One of the shells fell out of his hand and Dawn watched it bounce a couple of times and then roll towards her. She stared curiously as it came to a halt against her foot, then slowly reached out and grasped it, holding it up to her eyes. She'd never seen a bullet of any kind before. Could something as toy-looking as this really be dangerous? Could something like this really have killed Giles?
"Yeah. You just hang on to that, if you think it'll do you any good." Maclay managed to load the shotgun. With a grunt of pain he snapped it shut, used it as a cane to raise himself to his knees and started turning it towards Dawn. "If you're the praying sort, now would be-" Then he froze as he felt the blade of the chainsaw against his neck.
"P-p-put the g-gun down, Pa." Tara was standing behind him, all white-knuckled hands and trembling muscles as she held up the heavy chainsaw.
Her father coughed and spat a red-tinged blob on the floor, but sounded as assertive as ever when he spoke. "Don't be silly, Tara. You don't even know how to work that thing."
She put her hand on the clutch, pulled the strap and the well-oiled engine roared to life. All she had to do now was literally lift a finger and the blade would start spinning. "Th-think so? I spent 18 years in this house, P-pa. I pick things up. Now put the gun d-DOWN!"
Maclay swallowed as the blade poked him a little extra in the neck; after all, he was probably one of the world's leading experts on how much damage a chainsaw could do to a person. But he didn't lower the gun. "Tara.. I know you and I know you're not going to do this. I'm your father. For eighteen years your family has taken care of you, supported you, fed you —"
"On human flesh, Pa!"
Her father's voice had grown softer, almost tender. "I did what I had to to take care of you. And then you fell in with the wrong crowd and they've made you forget who you really are, turned you against your own family... but I forgive you, and like the prodigal son, I welcome you back with open arms. I can make it better." He patted the shotgun. "It'll be just like ripping off a band-aid, Tara, it hurts for a second and then we can go back to when everything was good."
There was no telling if the noise that escaped Tara's lips was a sob or a bitter laugh. "When was it ever good, Pa? When you beat Mom, or when you and Donnie beat me? When you tortured Bubba for years for being retarded? When you had him kill all those people?"
"I-I-I'm not perfect, Tara. I know that. I'm just a lowly sinner like everyone else. But you were always the best of us, and now that you've been returned to me I know you don't have it in you. 'And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry.' You will put the saw away, Tara, you will let me deal with this, and then we will be alright again."
Tara's hands were shaking, her vision was blurred with tears and the saw seemed to weigh a ton. She almost let it drop. But when she looked at Dawn, crumbled up in fear, and Willow lying there as if dead, she shook her head and held it tighter and there was no stutter when she spoke again. "No. I made a promise last night to take care of my family. And you're no longer a part of that, P... Eugene. So just put the gun down. Please, I-I don't want to do this..."
"I'm sorry, Tara. But I know that once they're gone you'll see things clearer."
The rest was a blur as everything happened at once. Eugene Maclay swung the shotgun towards Willow. Tara may have cried out something, but if she did it was drowned in the roar of the chainsaw as she released the clutch. Her arms shook wildly as the saw met resistance and something warm and sticky sprayed across her dress. There was a thud as something round hit the floor and bounced off into a corner. Then Tara turned off the chainsaw and there was deafening silence for a few seconds before she fell to her knees and threw up violently over her father's twitching corpse.
Chapter 9: The Saw Is Family
Chapter 9: The Saw Is Family
Tara wasn't sure how long she'd been kneeling over her father when Dawn joined her. For several minutes the two girls just held each other, shaking. Then Tara remembered.
She let go of Dawn and rushed to her girlfriend's side, terrified that she would be too late. Willow showed no reaction when she knelt down beside her, but whatever protection spell Tara had managed to cast yesterday had worked; she was still breathing, if only very slowly. Tara lifted the bandage and gasped at the damage; spell or not, Willow would need help very soon if she was going to make it. She racked her brain for healing spells, coming up with one her mother had used on her when she was little and had been badly beaten by her father. It sounded childish, but it worked. The damage was too severe for her to heal completely — Willow would need surgery — but she could at least kill some of the pain and give her enough strength to hold on for a few more hours.
Tara rubbed her palms together and placed them on the bloody gash in Willow's stomach, trying to ignore the fact that she had oil and dirt all over her hands; there was no time to worry about infections. "Panacea, Panacea, Take away the pain, As it was, so shall it be-a, Help my girl to smile again." She felt the power passing between them, she herself growing weaker as Willow grew stronger, though it felt easier than she'd expected — as if there was some other power helping out. She could have sworn she saw something small glowing in Willow's fist, but when it uncurled there was nothing there. The gash didn't close but the bleeding seemed to stop and some color returned to Willow's cheeks.
Then Tara's heart did a double backflip as Willow's eyes fluttered open. "Hey." Her voice was weak, barely audible, but there was a hint of a smile on her face.
"Hey sweetie." Tara smiled and ran her finger down Willow's cheek, drawing a line of blood and motor oil. "Don't try to move, we're going to get you to a hospital. You need some needlework. I'm going to let you sleep now, OK?"
Tara kissed her forehead. "See you in a few hours." She called down Morpheus' blessing on Willow, who was soon out of it again — but this time sleeping soundly, not leaning on death's door.
And then the doorway darkened. Tara and Dawn both spun around to see Leatherface standing there, staring at the scene before him. Whimpering, he walked up to his father's corpse and bent down to pick up the severed head. He poked it gently, as if to make it talk.
"It's OK, Bub... Robert." Tara spoke to her brother as softly as she could. "You're free now. He can't hurt you anymore."
Leatherface looked up from the head to Tara, absently fingering the hideous mask on his face and saying something unintelligible.
Tara smiled at him. "That's right, you won't have to wear that anymore. You don't have to hide." When he responded by bending over the body of their father and picking up the bloodied chainsaw, looking at it curiously, she felt for him. "Yes, I did that. I had to. Everything's going to be fine now, you're going to get the help you need and..." She trailed off as he gently pulled the strap on the chainsaw, petting the growling machine as if it were a small, deadly animal. Tara raised her voice. "Robert, no! You don't have to... we're free now! He can't -"
They say if you keep a bird in a cage for long enough, it will return to it even if you set it free. And when Leatherface turned away from the corpse of the man who'd decided everything for him his entire life he looked at his sister. His sister who had gone away and left him here, and then come back only to take away everything he had ever known.
With a howl of sorrow, Leatherface revved the saw and charged the three women. Tara was still yelling, desperately pleading with him and between that and the scream of the chainsaw filling her ears, everything else seemed to fade out. So when blood suddenly spurted out his belly and he stopped dead in his tracks, she wasn't sure what was happening; she watched her brother teeter briefly before toppling over onto the saw and uttering a bubbling scream as it dug into his body. Then the saw stalled and Tara turned her head towards Dawn who was gripping the shotgun tight, still pulling the trigger over and over again even though she had already emptied both barrels at him.
Slowly, Tara put her hand out and took the gun away from Dawn. Then she got up on shaky legs and walked over to where Leatherface was lying. A large pool of blood was forming around him and smoke rose from the busted chainsaw, yet somehow he was still alive.
From behind her, she heard Dawn’s tiny, shivering voice. "No, get away from him, he killed Buffy, and—"
"I know." Tara cut her off. "And he's paying for it. But he's my... my brother." She sank down beside him, gently removed the horrific mask and for the first time in years looked at his face. She wished she had any tears left, but she just felt empty.
"Are you going to..." Dawn was surprised to see that under the mask, Leatherface’s own face was... normal. Not good-looking, but not exactly ugly, either. "Are you going to h-heal him?"
But Tara just slowly shook her head. "Some things can't be healed, Dawn. I thought I could reach him, but... If people keep telling you you're a monster, treating you like one, sooner or later you believe them. He never knew anything else. He put on the mask to hide what he really was and he became the monster."
Leatherface's left eye opened and for a second he seemed to try to get up, but the high-pitched groan of pain that escaped his lips made it clear that he wasn't going anywhere. With a last effort he managed to put his hand on Tara's shoulder, and she responded by putting her arms around him. "Shhh, Robert... just be still. It won't hurt much longer." For a few minutes, Dawn watched in awkward silence as the two siblings held each other and Leatherface's breathing grew ever more labored.
And then it stopped.
* * *
Epilogue: two and a half years later
Riley edged the SUV onto the dirt road, hearing the gravel rattle under its wheels. He hadn't been out here since he helped them move, after Joyce's death left them only pain and a fight that was no longer theirs in Sunnydale, and so he had had to ask directions from a neighbor. Fortunately, that hadn't been a problem at all.
"Sawyer farm? Sure, I know it. Just go on ahead about three miles, and there's a li'l dirt road on your right. Follow that for a mile or so and you can't miss it. Say hi to the girls for me."
When he reached the house, he noticed how different it looked. The courtyard was cleared of all the wrecks and junk, the house had a fresh coat of paint and the surrounding fields weren't growing wild anymore. He got out. "Anybody home?"
A woman in a wide-brimmed hat came out of a newly built greenhouse, and when she looked up and smiled he recognized Tara. Except she was different; not just the tan and the work clothes, but something about the way she carried herself, confident, secure — and strong, he noted when they hugged. There were the obligatory "so good to see you" variations that tend to pass between two people who have a history together and like each other yet never really knew each other all that well. He asked about the others.
"Dawn's out working somewhere, but Will is —"
"Hey there, mister!" Willow poked her head out the door with a big grin on her face and came jogging up to him.
Riley hugged her. "Great to see you again, Will." It really was; last time he'd seen her she had still been recovering from intestinal surgery - not to mention losing most of the people she loved - and had seemed merely a ghost of herself; now she had a few more lines around her eyes, but she had put on some weight (it suited her), she was freckled from the sun and looked as full of life as he remembered her from the summer they'd all spent together a long time ago.
They sat down on the porch with a big pitcher of lemonade that Willow brought. "So, what's the big news that got the supersoldier defender of Sunnydale all the way out here?"
Riley knew Willow was kidding, but still felt a pang of guilt at having been such a stranger. It had just been hard, with Buffy gone and with everything going on back in Sunnydale... which of course was what brought him here. He took a deep breath. "It's Faith."
"What about her?" Willow immediately went on the defensive, then saw the look on his face. "Oh. I'm sorry. I mean... oh. You mean she's... isn't she?"
Riley nodded. "There was another apocalypse, some hellgod wannabe tried to open the hellmouth. Faith stopped it and as far as we can tell she closed it for good, she just... didn't make it out again. She did good work these last two years, I think you would have... She never did get along with the troops, though", he smiled, gazing off into the distance. Willow shifted uncomfortably on the couch as if she wanted to say something, but settled for cuddling closer to Tara who put her arm around her and kissed the top of her head. They sat in silence for a while before Riley decided to change the subject. "So how are things here?"
"Oh, we're doing pretty good." Tara took a sip of lemonade. "It's hard work, but the neighbors help out sometimes. I guess they're all happy to be rid of my folks, but of course none of them would ever mention it so it's all pretty much don't-ask-don't-tell. And Dawn's going off to college next fall, at least we hope so..."
"Oh, she'd better," Willow grinned, putting her hand on Tara's and squeezing it warmly. "I could definitely go a few more years without another teenager in the house."
"How is Dawn anyway? I mean, last time I saw her..."
Tara and Willow shared a look, as if deciding who was going to go first. "Well, she's..." Willow started and then hesitated, and Tara continued. "She's had it rough. The first few months... well, you know what she was like. She thought she'd lost everyone. Everything that happened here, and then being the one to find Joyce... it took her a lot of time to learn to live again. But I think this place has been good to her, all the work has helped take her mind off things, and she's really taken to it..."
"Plus, y'know..." Willow sighed sadly. "She's Buffy's little sister, and Summers women — tough as extra tough nails. I'm not saying she's all yay-me-my-life-rocks every single day, but she's a trooper. She's going to be fine."
For a while, they talked about other stuff — farming, mostly — but eventually Willow leaned forward and gave him a mock-stern look. "OK, Riley. We all know there's something you wanna say, and you may as well say it."
"That obvious, huh?" He smiled sheepishly. "OK, well... I guess I just don't see how you can live here, after all that's happened. I mean, you've done great things with this place, but..."
Tara looked out over the field for a long time before answering. "There's nothing wrong with this place, Riley. The evil was what my family did and I've promised to make up for it. There's been so much blood spilt here, all we can do is to try and restore some balance, try and cleanse the earth. We grow responsibly, we don't use pesticide, we don't eat meat..." (Riley blushed a little; he couldn't help it, he was a guy.)
"Also, being on first-name basis with a coupla fertility goddesses doesn't exactly hurt the crops... not that we'd use that for personal gain or anything, of course", Willow quickly added when Tara shot her an amused glance. "Say, big fella, we're going to be starting dinner — you are staying for dinner, aren't you?"
"Wouldn't miss it. Do you need any help?"
"Nah. You just take a walk, get a feel for the place. Tell you what, if you want... I mean, of course they're not actually buried there, but we..." Willow took a deep breath and then pointed. "Over under the big elm. We just needed someplace to... y'know. Remember."
A few minutes later Riley sat down on the bench under the elm, looking at the nine plain crosses planted there. Anya, Xander, Giles, Buffy and, somewhat apart from them, the Maclay family. For a while, he just sat there, thinking back on how good life had been for a short while. Of course, he'd been to the scoobies' real graves back in Sunnydale, but for some reason it seemed right that they should be here too - close to the few people who still remembered and loved them. He was deep in thought when suddenly the relative silence was ripped apart by the howl of a small two-stroke engine. Riley looked up in surprise and thought the sound must be coming from the back of the house. A farmboy himself, he knew what it was: a chainsaw cutting something up. He got up to investigate.
At first he didn't recognize her. His mental image of Dawn was still the lanky young teenager whom he'd first run in to at Buffy's dorm right around the time they started dating, but that was almost four years ago and that girl was long gone. In her place was a tall, slim but well-muscled young woman in a work shirt and dungarees, her hair hanging in her face as she worked. She was cutting up firewood with a shiny new chainsaw, a small but powerful tool that seemed to cut through even the toughest branches with no trouble at all. Riley watched her admiringly; she was pretty handy with that thing, he wasn't sure he would have gotten through the pile of wood half as fast as she did.
When she turned the saw off, he cleared his throat. She spun around, and for a second something about the expression on her face scared him. Before he could quite put his finger on it, though, she put on a big smile that seemed almost perfectly normal.
Well... read on...
Chapter 10: Alternate Ending: Off With Her Head
Author's note: I posted the last chapter to my usual hunting grounds and got feedback saying "cute ending, but where's the gore?" Words like "chicken" and "pussy" were used — in jocular fashion, but still: irksome. So I said to myself, "Self", I said, "if they want gore, fine, give'em gore." I opened a bottle of whisky, put on a Black Sabbath record and typed until 4AM, making sure to make it as dark, repulsive and disturbing as I possibly could and then some. It scares me a little that this stuff came out of my head. I'm a pretty nice guy, really. But here it is.
Last warning: If you thought the previous chapters were too nasty, they are Disney candyfloss and adorable little puppies eating ice cream in the summer sun compared to this one. I'm going to The Special Hell for this chapter, and anyone who reads it will be right there with me getting poked in the ass by the same pitchfork, burning in the same pot full of molten lava, listening to the same Coldplay records. If that's not your thing, STOP READING. NOW.
Don't say I didn't warn you. Now, let's pick up where we started the last chapter, with Tara healing Willow.
Sick, Twisted And Evil Alternate Ending: Off With Her Head
(Note the "alternate". Read the previous chapter before you read this.)
...Tara kissed her forehead. "See you in a few hours." She called down Morpheus' blessing on Willow, who was soon out of it again — but this time sleeping soundly, not leaning on death's door.
And then the doorway darkened. Tara and Dawn both spun around to see Leatherface standing there, staring at the scene before him. Whimpering, he walked up to his father's corpse and bent down to pick up the severed head. He poked it gently, as if to make it talk.
"It's OK, Robert." Tara spoke as softly as she could. "You're free now. He can't hurt you anymore."
Leatherface looked up from the head to Tara, absently grabbing at his face and saying something unintelligible.
Tara smiled at him. "That's right, you won't have to wear that anymore. You don't have to hide." When he responded by bending over the body of their father and picking up the bloodied chainsaw, looking at it curiously, she felt for him. "Yes, I did that. I had to. Everything's going to be fine now, you're going to get the help you need and..." He collapsed in wretched sobs over his father. She got up to join him but he gave her a violent shove, sending her tumbling across the room. Then he he lifted the body with one arm, grabbed the chainsaw in the other, and after one final hurt look at his sister, climbed back up the steps and slammed the door behind him. Dawn ran after him, but the door was locked and all she could do was to pound her fists against it.
"HEEEEEEEEELP! SOMEBODYYY! HEEEELP!"
Tara slowly sat up, starting to realize what had happened. "Dawnie, please don't... there's no one within miles and even if there was, this place is soundproof. Pa used to lock Robert in here when he was a kid. He'd scream for days, but you could stand right outside the door and barely hear it. Once you're locked in here..." her voice shivered, "you don't get out until he lets you out."
"Well can't you... you know... magic it open?"
Tara looked at the door, then looked at Willow, and then shook her head. "I can't... right now the magicks are all that's keeping her alive. If I use some of that to try and break down the door, she'll..."
"What about the gun? On TV they always —"
"No. It's a shotgun, not a rifle. The door's too thick, and there's a padlock on the outside."
Dawn swallowed hard, her lip trembling. Then she turned back to the door and beat her fists bloody against it, clawing her nails out, screaming for help until her voice was down to a whisper. When she couldn't scream anymore, she stumbled down to where Tara was sitting with Willow and lay down beside them, trying not to panic. "Riley knows we're here. Riley knows. He'll..."
"I-I'm sure he will, Dawn. We just have to wait." They knew they were both thinking the same things; if he's OK, if he finds the house, if Leatherface doesn't find him first...
* * *
"Tara? I'm hungry."
Tara sat with Willow's head in her lap, softly stroking her hair. It was taking all her power just to keep Willow here. "I know, sweetie. I am too." They had gone through the entire basement searching for tools that could help them get out, and when that failed, for anything edible. There was a tap with fresh water in a corner, but otherwise nothing useful; boxes containing some of Tara's mother's clothes — at least they could make fresh bandages for Willow — a few books, various junk, and that was it.
It was hot in here, but stripping down to their underwear and drinking a lot of water helped some. It didn't help Giles, though; his body had been lying in this temperature for two days now and was becoming very ripe. The stench and constant buzzing of flies was almost deafening, even after they gathered the nerve to dump an entire box of clothes over him and shove him into the furthest corner.
Dawn held up one of the books they had found. "Is this any good? I don't think I..." She frowned. "I can't remember if I've read it."
Tara looked at it and smiled. "'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland'. My mother used to read it to me all the time." She took the book, and they both huddled around Willow as Tara read until the sun went down.
"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversation?'
So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.
There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, 'Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!' (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge..."*
* * *
"Tara! I got it!" Dawn had managed to use the barrel of the shotgun to punch out the small ventilation opening near the ceiling and now a thin shaft of sunlight lit up the dusky basement. Dawn put her head up to the opening and looked out; it was a beautiful summer's day, and she could see a butterfly fluttering across the lawn just over a foot away from her. But the hole was so small. She could barely force her arm through it, scraping it bloody on the sharp remains of the metal grid that had blocked it to keep rats and rain out. When she pulled her hand back in she had a fistful of grass. She stared at it for a few seconds — green, glistening, fresh — before stuffing it in her mouth and chewing.
"No, Dawn!" Tara tried to stop her, but she refused to open her mouth. "You can't eat that. It won't do any good, you can't digest it."
"I know." Dawn swallowed. "But it tastes like food." She got up again and got a second fist of grass, which she offered to Tara. She hesitated, but the rumbling in her stomach was loud enough to shout down her brain. She took it and ate.
For both of them, it came out both ends a few hours later. Green, sickly. They tried again.
* * *
Willow was thrashing in her sleep, groaning, her cheeks burning up with fever. Tara was doing her best to keep her still as she dabbed at her face with a wet rag, but it was obvious that her girlfriend was in a lot of pain.
Dawn couldn't understand how she could let this go on. "I think she's waking up. Shouldn't you be healing her again?"
Tara had known this moment would come, and shook her head slowly. "I... I've been trying for hours, Dawnie. I have n-n-nothing left, I'm tapped out."
She carefully lifted the bandage. At first the spell had kept the infection in check, but the wound wasn't healing — on the contrary, it was opening up again, and for the first time in two days the bandage was again soaked wet with Willow's blood.
Dawn tried to get up to sit by Willow's side, but she was too light-headed and settled for crawling over on all fours. "But there's gotta be something... I mean, can't you see that she's hurting?"
"She's dying, Dawn." Tara's voice was surprisingly forceful considering how weak she felt... or maybe it was just that they'd gotten so used to whispering that anything spoken at normal level sounded like a jet plane taking off. "Unless she gets to a doctor immediately, she's going to keep getting worse and she's going to die. It'll take hours and it will hurt like nothing I can imagine. A...and since I can't even keep her asleep anymore, sh-she's going to be awake the whole time..."
Dawn looked at her and then shakily pulled herself up to the ventilation shaft. Somewhere far off, she thought she could hear a small engine revving. "HEEEEEEEELP! RIIIIILEEEY!" Her voice probably didn't even carry to the end of the lawn, but it was loud enough to wake up Willow.
The redhead was even paler than usual, her eyes at half mast and sweat pearling on her face. She tried to speak; at first nothing came out, and the second time around only the last part of the sentence made it. "...ospital?"
"Not yet." Tara's hand trembled as she gently carressed her cheek. "Something came up."
"I think..." Willow grimaced in pain. "Not to be a... party-pooper or anything, but... bu..." Tara almost allowed herself to hope that Willow was going to pass out. She almost did, but then she cried out in agony and was conscious again. "...I should probably get there soonish. Feeling real f-funky here."
"I know. It'll be better soon, I promise. Will?"
"You know I love you, right?"
"You know I'd give my life for you? You know I'd do anything to make you stop hurting?"
Willow nodded. "Me too."
"I know. And I have something here that will take the pain away. But I... I can only do it one time, so you just let me know when it gets real bad and I'll make it right for you. OK, sweetie?"
It was anybody's guess whether Willow understood what Tara was getting at, but she nodded weakly. Tara kissed her and then held her, whispering private things in her ear as she waited. It took about half an hour; then Willow squeezed her hand as the pain grew unbearable. "Tara... please..."
Their eyes met. "OK. Close your eyes and open your mouth." Willow complied. "I love you." Tara put the shotgun to Willow's mouth and pulled the trigger. The blast left both Tara and Dawn deaf for several minutes, and Willow dead for a whole lot longer than that as the top half of her head dissolved into a rainbow-like fountain of pinkish brains, copper curls and crimson blood stretching from her upper jaw to the wall two feet away. Dawn remained sitting at Willow's feet unable to look away, while Tara stumbled into a corner where she huddled, shaking, until night fell and everything was dark.
* * *
Dawn was too weak to even stand up and reach the ventilation shaft. Not that it mattered; they had picked every square inch they could reach free of grass, and there was no food anywhere. She had ripped out a tooth trying to bite a chunk out of her shoe, and it was hurting bad. She was even almost too tired to cry. Almost. At some point she thought that Buffy was sitting next to her, stroking her hair like she always had when something was wrong... but when she looked up it was Tara.
"How are you feeling?"
"I wanna go home." Dawn sniveled. "I'm so hungry and I'm tired and I just wanna go home. Why can't we just go home... why isn't there any food..."
"There is." Tara's fists were clenched almost as tightly as her jaw as she seemed to make a decision. "We have fresh meat."
Dawn looked at her and frowned before she realized what she was talking about. "Are you INSANE?!"
"Dawn, I know it's..."
"No. It's not her." Tara rocked her, sobbing herself now. "It's not her. She's gone."
"Where did she... I mean, shouldn't we have given her last rites or something?"
"I don't know. I have no idea, Dawn, we never talked about that... Jewish stuff... but I have to believe she's someplace good. She was the best... the best person I ever... and she would want us to-"
"How can you SAY that?"
"Do you wanna die?" Tara tried to get to her feet, but stumbled and fell on top of Dawn. It took them a lot of effort to just disentangle, each limb seemed to weigh a ton. "I'm done, Dawnie. This is it. No one's coming for us, and I spent too much energy trying to save..." She couldn't even say it. "I need to eat something or I'll die. Soon. She died trying to save me, and Buffy died trying to save you. What the hell was the point if we're just going to give up? W-we have to be strong, Dawnie..."
"What about..." Dawn hated herself for having to choose. "What about Giles?"
"He's spoiled. You can smell it. If we eat him, we'll just get sick."
"This IS sick!"
"I know." Tara hugged her. "But it's our only chance."
It took them a few minutes to make their way over to Willow's body. Tara had draped an old shirt over her girlfriend's ruined head.
"How do we..." Dawn swallowed. "How... we don't have a n-knife or anything."
"We'll have to use our teeth." Tara removed the stiff and dry bandage around Willow's stomach. "W-we'll start around the wound and w-w-work our way..."
Over the last two days, hunger - like the stench of death - had become something so mundane that they'd almost forgotten it. Now they remembered. Thousands of years of civilization and millions of years of evolution took a back seat as something older took over. Survive. Eat. Gorge. The roar of hunger in her stomach made Dawn forget the pain in her jaw. For her eleventh (or was it twelfth? She wasn't sure) birthday her mother had served veal. It had been rare, with a delicious red sauce and yams, and incredibly tender. The best meat she'd ever had.
She thought about that as she chewed. And bit. And tore. And chewed. And bit. And tore. And chewed.
* * *
Try not to throw up.
Try not to throw up.
They hadn't spoken to each other since yesterday. Tara seemed to be retreating into herself, moving only to get a piece of meat and then curling up in a corner with her arms around her head. Dawn, on the other hand, felt stronger; she'd been able to keep most of what she ate yesterday and this morning, and as long as she didn't think about it or look at Willow's...
(it's not her, she's gone)
...Its body she found she could actually both think and move better than yesterday. And she remembered that there was something Tara had to do.
"Tara? Shouldn't we be trying the door?" Ignoring her sobs, Dawn pulled the apathetic Tara halfway across the floor before Tara found her feet and began to walk on her own. They reached the door together and Dawn did her best to support the older girl as she let her hands roam over the door, settling on the lock.
Tara took a deep breath and closed her eyes, focusing. She had eaten, she had slept, she had recharged. It should be enough. Then she pushed with everything she had. "Aperi!" The lock clicked open, the padlock broke and the door swung open all of two inches before stopping dead against something. She peeked through the crack, then exhaled violently, stumbled back to her corner and began laughing hysterically.
Leatherface had made sure they wouldn't get out. A heavy old wooden dresser - roughly the size of a Coke machine - was pulled in front of the door, blocking it as effectively as you'd please.
* * *
Dawn looked at It, her mind's artillery effectively shooting down any thoughts that tried to use the W word. It was now dressed only in a pink short-sleeved blouse pulled up to expose the huge gap in Its stomach. The legs had had the most meat and they'd worked some pretty good chunks out of them. But something was new; when Dawn had gone to sleep yesterday It had still been wearing panties, but Tara had obviously fed during the night. The area between Its legs was a gaping red hole, and Dawn again had to fight the gag reflex; she wasn't sure if it was because of the image of Tara lying between Its legs eating or her own immediate reaction - Damn, why didn't I think of that, it must have been a lot easier to chew... She looked at Tara who was weeping in her sleep, blood drying on her dirty face, only the area under her eyes kept clean by a constant flow of salt water.
Dawn turned back to It with dismay. The exposed skin was turning gray, and when she tried to bite a chunk out of Its leg it not only tasted bad but also seemed a lot tougher than it had been yesterday. The food was spoiling; she'd better eat as much as possible today, by tomorrow it would probably be too late. An idea struck her and she unbuttoned the blouse
(Pink... Willow always liked pink...)
carefully, making sure she didn't rip out any buttons even though her hands shook. She ran her hands over Its exposed breasts; they seemed whiter, more supple than the rest of her, as if the blouse had kept that part of her fresher than the rest. She grabbed the left breast with both hands and bent down to take a bite.
Suddenly Tara was on her, dragging her away, and for a few seconds they struggled, fighting like dogs over a bone, kicking, scratching, biting, Dawn pulling at Tara's hair. Eventually the larger woman got the upper hand and pinned Dawn down. They stared at each other, teeth bared, until the feral expression on Tara's face melted away into one of unimaginable grief. "Dawnie, I'm sorry... I'm so sorry... but I can't let you... not there. There's enough for both of us, but... not there. That's mine. Sh-she's..." She grabbed one of Its stiff arms and angled it up towards Dawn. "H-here, the palm is the best bit, I-I've been saving them for you..."
And they ate.
* * *
The heat and stench weren't as bad anymore. They were used to it, like rats living at the city dump don't complain when someone drops off a truckload of bad shrimp. And for now, the hunger was gone. Despite the foul taste, they had been able to keep what they ate yesterday. But they also knew it was the last meal for a while; they had tried to eat a little more today, but It tasted awful and only Tara had been able to keep anything down. And so they sat, waiting.
As the light started to dim, Dawn found the book they'd been reading from, but it had been lying right by Willow's head and was ruined, soaked through with dried blood so you couldn't even turn the pages.
"Tara?" No answer. "How does it end?"
Dawn had almost forgot that she asked when Tara finally responded. "She wakes up. It was all a dream." There was a pause, and then Tara recited from memory. "She pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days."*
Dawn nodded. That was a happy ending. "Tara? Is this a dream?"
There was no answer.
* * *
Day... 12, possibly 13
Dawn drank some more water. The hunger was gnawing in her stomach as she crept back to her corner. It was the most curious feeling; for the last... however long it had been since Tara had stopped talking, she had been trying to remember what happened before all this. For some reason her memories seemed to get foggier all the time; the last 3-4 months were pretty clear, but anything before that was weird. She could remember her mother, and Buffy, and she knew there had been stuff before this summer but... she just couldn't remember any of it.
She wondered if Tara had the same problem. She never answered anymore. Occasionally she'd call out Willow's name in her sleep, but mostly she just sat in her corner. Lately she'd taken to staring at Dawn. Dawn knew because she stared back.
She was so hungry.
* * *
The struggle was not as brief as it would have been if either of them had been strong enough to stand or kick, but not very long either. There was a weak groan as teeth sank into emaciated flesh and one pair of hands was forced to let go of the shotgun. There was a blast. There was a scream of pain, followed by a sickening crack as the shotgun was brought down like a billy club on the wounded girl's head. There were sobs.
And then there was chewing.
* * *
...night... not sure... many many
The pain when she bit into her own hand was intense, but not as bad as that in her stomach, and it kept her from passing out. There was a lot of blood, but it tasted so good. She lapped it up and kept gnawing until the first finger came off. Not much meat on it, but every little bit helps.
And after all, she was right-handed. Lots of people get by with one arm.