"Close your eyes," Tara whispered, but before the last words had slipped from her lips, she realized he was already gone.
Oz slumped forward onto the concrete floor, his hands still clutched against his stomach. Tara's arms trembled from the heft of the revolver, but she felt frozen in place, crushed under the weight of what she'd almost done.
Almost had to do, she told herself as a shudder rippled through her body. The thought gave little comfort.
A shoe scuffled against the floor, and she looked up in a daze to see Riley gaping at her with bald shock...and something else. Appreciation, or fear? She wasn't sure. She didn't like either option, and moved to hand to gun back to the officer. Riley flinched.
Fear, then, she mused with sadness, turning the weapon in her hand to offer it grip-first to the man. He recovered quickly and looked immensely relieved to have the gun back in his possession. Still eyeing Tara warily, he returned the weapon to its holster and tilted his head toward the dark corner to the left of where they'd first entered the room.
"I think the shot came from over there," he said. Not waiting for a response, he crossed the room, careful to avoid the two dead bodies, and began running a hand along the bricks, shining his light on each crevice.
Tara absently looked at her watch, which read 11:30. She stepped back to the wall by the other exit and let her weary legs fold underneath her, her back sliding down the cool, damp walls. Her shirt soaked up some of the moisture and clung halfway up her back. She listlessly tugged it down and looked at Oz. The flashlight she'd dropped when she'd grabbed Riley's gun still lay on the floor, pointing directly at the young man's face, where his lifeless eyes were glassy and wet.
"You would have done it, wouldn't you?"
Tara started at the sound of Riley's voice. Her eyes darted to where he stood, his back to her as he continued to inspect the walls. There was more curiosity than accusation in his voice.
"Yes," she rasped.
"Have to say, I'm surprised," the cop continued from across the room. "I'm usually pretty good at reading people. Never would've pegged you for a killer."
Tara didn't answer right away, but even in the darkness she could feel Riley turn to appraise her. She thought back to the hours spent in a suffocatingly small locked room, interrogated for hours. Something in Riley's tone reminded her of the detectives from back then: their words carefully chosen to elicit a response; their deceptively conversational air seeming to say 'go on, tell us everything, you'll feel better.' In the cavernous enclosure of this room, Riley's voice sounded unnaturally loud, and Tara wished he would speak softer. It already felt like a tomb even without the bodies, but with them...well, Tara's mother had always taught her to show respect for the dead.
Back then, with the vision of her father's angry face still fresh in her mind, the detectives had reduced her to a sobbing, quivering wreck.
She'd sworn no one would ever make her feel that way again: small...terrified...guilty. She closed her eyes and took several long, deep breaths. When she spoke, her voice was little more than a whisper, but still it echoed off the white bricks.
"One day when I was nine, my mother and I were driving home from the store. We lived out in the middle of nowhere and the road was really winding through the woods. There'd been a snowstorm several days before-completely unexpected-but it had cleared up enough to run into town for supplies.
"I guess the road was still pretty icy, 'cause when we came around the bend past the Martin's orchard, there w-was a deer, and my mom braked, but we started skidding. It was like...time stopped...just for a minute, and the next thing I remember was the b-bump-like driving over a speed bump too fast, you know? Except I knew it wasn't a speed bump."
Tara closed her eyes as she recounted the memory in a soft monotone.
"She got the car stopped by the side of the road and jumped out. She was yelling for me to 'stay in the car, stay in the car, oh goddess no, stay in the car!' But I'd already gotten out and seen. It-she, it was a she-wasn't making a sound, but she kept thrashing her head around. S-she looked right at me for a second, and her eyes were so big and afraid."
The images behind her closed eyes were too much, and Tara snapped open her eyelids to see Oz, his wide, vacant eyes staring through her. Tears clouded her vision.
"Her hind legs w-were crushed, her whole back half was all...twisted and she w-was trying to crawl away, but...her front hooves kept sliding on the ice. I just stood there...just...I couldn't move. My mom had walked over and crouched down next to her, and I remember thinking 'Mom'll fix it! We'll take her home and wrap her legs with sticks and gauze, and keep her as a pet.'" Tara laughed bitterly at the memory and roughly swiped a tear from her cheek. "That's when she stood up and told me to bring her the jack handle from the trunk."
Riley had stopped all pretense of searching the wall, which had proven useless anyway. He looked to where Tara sat on the floor, her knees bent to her chest, her upper body rocking slightly. He didn't make a sound or move, lest he startle her, but just stood still as she spoke, her voice regaining its even timbre even as she physically seemed on the verge of collapse.
"I started screaming my head off...pleading...I called her every bad name I knew. She waited for me to stop and just came over and hugged me. She put me back in the car and told me to close my eyes and cover my ears. I felt the trunk open and close, and I started humming as loud as I could.
"When she got back in the car, I was afraid to l-look at her, afraid she'd have that deer's blood all over her. I just sat there hoping she'd start the car...I just wanted to go home, but she didn't do anything. I looked over out of the corner of my eye and I could see she was crying. As soon as she looked back at me I turned my head and stared out the window. She said 'some times things are beyond saving, and it's less cruel to put them out of their misery than to let them suffer needlessly.' And she asked me if I understood."
Her eyes still locked on Oz's, Tara uncurled her legs and crawled on her hands and knees to the dead musician's side.
"I think I probably nodded, but I didn't understand. Not then."
With a silently mouthed word of prayer, Tara passed her hand over Oz's face, drawing his eyelids closed. She pushed herself to her feet, and looked at Riley, who was staring down at the floor.
"I should have-," he started, his voice unusually hesitant.
"Neither of us should have had to make that decision," Tara insisted, quietly adding "and it doesn't matter now. Now we just need to figure out-"
Tara's voice was drowned out by the sudden roar of sixty thousand gallons of water draining from the pool in a matter of seconds. Riley trained his flashlight at the source in time to see the last of the water disappearing through a trap door at the deep end of the now empty pool.
A trap door that remained open.
Tara and Riley looked at each other, matching expressions of surprise and trepidation on their faces. The seconds ticked by as both strained their ears for a voice, a cry...anything that could be interpreted as a man-made sound.
There was nothing but the distant lapping of water on stone.
Riley jumped into the pool, drawing his gun as he edged closer to the opening.
Tara retrieved the discarded flashlight and followed. She peered into the breech and saw a long tunnel like a drainage pipe, four feet in diameter. The unspoken question hung in the space between them, but they both knew the answer. There was light at the end of the tunnel...sunlight. Whatever danger lay on the other side, they had to take the chance. It was a way out.
Tara looked back at the steel door blocking the room and wondered if Willow was still on the other side.
Maybe she's found a way out too, she hoped. Maybe she'll be waiting at the end of that tunnel.
They stepped inside.