Tara closed and locked the door, lingering a moment with her palm flat against the wood as she listened to the redhead sigh and walk off down the hall. She waited until she'd heard Willow's own lock click before she returned to the bed, where'd she'd sat lost in thought for the past several hours. Leaning back against the headboard, she stared warily at the door as her hand unconsciously twisted and crumpled the note card she didn't realize she still held.
A part of Tara wished the redhead would come back. Despite her better judgment, she found the woman's presence comforting, and it had been difficult to turn down the offer of conversation. In the brief moment they'd stood looking at each other, the redhead's words from before rang in Tara's ears, and she'd had to look away.
"I'm not like you people," she'd said. How can I talk to her if she doesn't understand? How can I trust her if she hasn't been through - or if she has and she's lying about it.
Tara looked down at the mangled card in her hand as though she'd never seen it before. She carefully smoothed it out against her thigh before leaning over to place it face down on the nightstand. Returning to her seated position, she again focused on the door as if she could, by staring at it long enough, will the redhead to return. To say that the day's events had been upsetting would be an understatement of astronomical proportions, and at this moment Tara wanted nothing more than to forget - even if just for the night - the situation she was in.
What the hell is wrong with me, she chastised herself. I'm trapped on an island in the middle of nowhere, brought here under false pretenses by at best a delusional eccentric, at worst a homicidal maniac... and all I can think about is how nice and distracting a little one-night comfort sex with a beautiful woman I hardly know could be. "Stupid," she muttered as she stood, walked to the desk, dragged the heavy oak chair to the door, and firmly wedged it under the handle.
The ornate clock on the dresser showed it wasn't even 9:00 yet, but realizing her only options, NOT counting going to Willow's room, were joining the others getting drunk downstairs or going to sleep, she opted for the latter. She hastily went through her preparations before reconfirming that the door and windows were secure, then climbed into the large bed. As she lay waiting for sleep to come, she again heard the strange voice echo in her mind.
"Now that I have your attention, ladies and gentlemen... let's talk about why you're here."
Ten bodies turned in unison at the sound and found themselves looking at a reel-to-reel tape player set on the sideboard near the door.
"Allow me to introduce myself... I am Maat Sekhmet. I apologize for not greeting you in person, but I trust Giles has adequately attended to your needs. I assume that by now you have all introduced yourselves, and read the verses I left for you. I further surmise that you are all wondering why you've really been brought here. The answer is quite simple. You are all guilty of causing the death of one or more people, and you have all escaped the hand of justice. You will not be so fortunate here. There is a stack of envelopes on the mantle - one for each of you - that outline the specifics of your crimes. I will leave it to each of your consciences to determine what you reveal to each other, but I will read off the names of your victims for all to hear."
As the tape played, the guests formed a semi-circle around the machine, staring at it transfixed as the reels spun. As the eerily androgynous voice droned on, several moved to sit, while others leaned against the walls or furniture for support. No one spoke.
"You are hereby found guilty of the murders of the following:
Cordelia Chase... Justine Barlow;
I assure you all, you will not escape punishment again."
The voice cut off as the tape ended, the tail end whipping around with a rhythmic thwacking sound before Riley stepped forward and turned the player off. Silence hung heavy in the room as the guests snuck uneasy glances at each other.
"This is ludicrous!" Riley's booming voice finally broke the stillness, his face red with rage.
"MURDER? What's he talking about? I'm no murderer, I'm a model."
"Whoever this guy is, he's in for a world of pain when I get my hands on him," Faith threatened.
"OH! The boat!" Anya exclaimed.
"What about it?" several voices asked in unison.
"The Eind van de Lijn?!" the woman stated, sighed in exasperation at the blank looks she received. "The End of the Line."
Oz furrowed his brow and walked to the fireplace, where he found the envelopes, each one neatly addressed, looking as innocuous as a stack of party invitations. He proceeded to hand them out, noticing that no one appeared in a hurry to open them and discover their contents.
Tara sat on one of several sofas, her face a deathly pale as she took her envelope. Next to her, Dawn sobbed into her fists, but when Tara placed a comforting hand on the distraught girl's shoulder, Dawn jerked away and stood up, her eyes darting wildly around the room.
"I didn't kill my baby!" she shouted at the stunned onlookers. "I had a miscarriage - there's a difference."
"Dawn, calm down... none of us is accusing you," Willow soothed. "This is some sort of sick joke. I never killed anyone - I've never even heard of that man. And I'm sure no one else-"
"I did it," a soft voice murmured, and all eyes were immediately turned to the blonde, her head bowed, her face hidden behind a curtain of hair.
"Tara?" Willow breathed, feeling the air rush out of her lungs and hoping she'd misunderstood. The blonde lifted her head to meet the redhead's quizzical eyes.
"I killed them... my father and brother... but it was self defense," she insisted, her eyes pleading with Willow's as her lip quivered. "It never even went to court."
"Neither did mine," Buffy quietly remarked. Looking around nervously, she swallowed before continuing. "I was working at a tanning salon. Mrs. Peterson was a regular. I should have been watching the time closer, but I... when I finally went to check on her, the bed had malfunctioned... I guess she couldn't get out. She was dead. But the investigators said it wasn't my fault, and they didn't prosecute me."
"I didn't even get investigated," Oz started, frowning as though surprised. "She was in my band. I begged her to get help, but she said she could handle it. She asked me to get her some clean needles, and I figured she was gonna do it anyway, I could at least... she OD'd that night."
"I'd like to know what 'Little Miss Perfect' did to get in here," Faith commented from her perch on the arm of a sofa. Her smirk only increased at the cold glare she received.
"You're the poster child for the pathologically unstable - why are you here?"
"Oh, I see... I'll show you mine if you show me yours? Okay. I knifed a guy."
"W-was he attacking you?" Tara asked, her nervousness curiously calmed by hearing the others' stories.
"Sorry to disappoint you, Blondie... I'm sure he would've tried, I just didn't give him the chance." Turning her attention back to Cordelia, she raised her eyebrows. "So? Spill."
"Justine was pledging my sorority. She couldn't handle her alcohol and she drowned. But none of us were ever charged, although those bastards in administration put us all on probation for a year."
"You really are heartless, aren't you?" Buffy accused.
"I felt bad, I did," Xander stated, seemingly to convince himself as he walked to the bar and poured a large shot of whiskey. "They were on their way home from the airport... their son had just gone off to college. They ran a stop sign... I couldn't stop in time... even if I hadn't been-," he threw back the shot and grimaced.
"Drunk?" Anya finished sarcastically. His eyes blazed out at her before he turned away with a nod and poured another drink.
"So what about you?" Cordelia directed at Anya, who instantly regretted calling attention to herself.
"It's tragic, really. Herbert and Ralph were my second and third husbands. They both had weak hearts, poor dears. I certainly can't be held responsible for their deaths. If anything, I'm the victim here."
"So that's why you were so sure our host was a man," Riley noted angrily. "What, were you trolling for number four?"
"Hate to break it to you, Officer Finn, but you're on the list too," Faith commented with a laugh. "Now what could a member of Iowa's finest have done to land in here?"
"I was doing my job," the man replied through clenched teeth. "The suspect was believed to be armed and dangerous. It... it looked like a real gun."
A silence once again descended over the room, as each person struggled with their memories.
"Wait a minute." Faith's sudden remark brought questioning eyes to her, while her own were directed at the one person who had not offered an explanation for her presence. She tilted her head slightly. "We've all admitted to at least knowing who we supposedly offed. Wanna change your answer, Red? Or are you gonna stick with that bullshit 'I didn't know the guy' story?"
Willow's eyes widened as her gaze drifted over the others. Some looked at her inquisitively, some with anger. Her eyes met Tara's briefly, which held a mixture of worry and curiosity.
"I... I'm not like you people," she finally stammered out, instantly regretting her words as she saw pained blue eyes turn away from her. "I mean... I really don't know what he was talking about. I've never done anything to anyone. I'm very seldom-" unlawful, she meant to add, but refrained as she realized that wasn't exactly true. But that was a long time ago, and it's not like anyone was hurt by it. Or at least, not physically.
The sound of paper ripping drew Willow out of her thoughts, and as several people began silently perusing the details of their cards, she looked down at the envelope in her own hand. Dawn had begun crying quietly again, her small frame shaking as she gripped her paper. Buffy and Tara watched sadly as she ran upstairs, the sound of her door slamming shut echoing back down the hall.
"I think I'm going to try to talk to her," Buffy commented to no one in particular, pushing herself off the couch and leaning heavily on the banister as she ascended the stairs.
Riley, Anya, and Cordelia joined Xander at the bar.
"I'm gonna go look for that Giles guy," Oz stated, crooking his thumb over his shoulder.
"I'll come with," Faith offered, jumping down off the couch arm. "Anyone else?"
Willow locked eyes with Tara. Both women's thoughts drifted back to the casual flirting in the hall, which seemed a lifetime ago now. As Tara's gaze faltered, Willow looked to where Oz and Faith stood.
"I'm in... let's go."