Continue to Lamplight Chapter Forty


Author: watson
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: BtVS characters, concepts and dialog belong to Mutant Enemy, Fox, The WB, UPN and others.

Tara jumped when Wilkins slammed the door, feeling the bunk sway with the viciousness of the action. When the whole cabin lurched to one side and she almost fell off the bunk, she realized it was more than the door slamming.

She hadn't noticed the yacht moving off, so intent was her conversation with Wilkins. But now the yacht was rolling erratically from side to side, and she felt each stomach-turning roll inside her claustrophobic cell. The labored groans of the engines grew louder and she felt the vibrations stutter throughout the yacht.

It worked! I love you, Willow. You're a genius.

The engines gave a final sickening whine and stopped altogether. The silence buzzed around her, and she felt her emotions collide with elation and trepidation. She hoped that Willow didn't try anything impetuous. Like boarding the yacht herself. She pinned her hopes on Willow contacting either the police or waiting till Agent Burkle arrived. Now that the propellers and perhaps even the engine were damaged, there would be enough time for law enforcement to come up with a plan. She had to hold onto that hope.

The conversation with Wilkins scared her. He had given her proof of his wrongdoings, but the casual way he allowed her to question him suggested that he had no intention of allowing her to divulge that information to anyone. He had again stopped short of hitting her outright, but how long would his control last? She didn't want to be witness to his loss of temper.

She didn't know if he, or Luke or anyone would return. That was as frightening a thought as any. She searched the cabin for something that could be used to prop against the door, but all the furniture was bolted down. Every time footsteps came nearer her heart went to her throat and it was all she could do not to throw up. She was grateful she hadn't eaten for hours.

All she could do was wait.

The air grew stifling. Either due to the lack of air-conditioning, or the fact that she was in an enclosed space. She was also still wearing her wetsuit. She debated whether to remove it, but since all she had on underneath was her swimsuit, she decided not to. She didn't know what would happen in the next few hours but being in a swimsuit couldn't prepare her for any of the multitude of scenarios running rampant through her head.

She was so hot.

Hours passed. She tried to sleep but every time she closed her eyes, she was overcome with the vertigo of fear. She was hot, drained and starving. Luckily the cabin had a small ensuite water closet but without adequate ventilation it was beginning to smell of soiled seawater.

She felt like she was drifting, suspended in some form of fugue limbo. She had long given up caring whether anyone would return to her cell. They could yell at her, hit her, prod her and she would not have felt a thing.

When it finally came it was a huge surprise. The yacht jerked, like it had run into an iceberg or been hit by a large rock. Then it was like a battalion of elephants was running through the yacht. Bangs and yells were followed by the rapid fire of gunshots.

They were either being rescued or invaded.

The shouting and stampeding grew near, and her mind was alert now. But she knew she couldn't relax. With her remaining strength she flipped the thin mattress and squeezed behind it in a make-shift shield.

Then she returned to waiting.

It was only minutes yet it felt like an eternity. The smoky smell of ammunition drifted through, and she absently wondered how her wetsuit would fare against bullets. Not very well, she thought.

She heard the crackle of a radio, then a clipped English voice. "Check each door carefully. There may be suspects on the loose."

She followed their progress closer and closer to her cell. And then they were outside hers. She could hear their breathing, she could smell their sweat. A rattle of the handle, then silence. A few seconds later a splintering sound as the door was kicked open.

Sounds of clothes rustling. Heavy footsteps. When a gloved hand turned over the mattress and all she could see was a sinister gas mask, she started screaming.

Willow watched the police strike force file past her one by one and board the patrol boat silently. She turned and scrambled on the plank.

A firm hand landed on her shoulder. "Willow, we can't take you," Detective Gunn said.

She eyed his bulletproof vest and ammo pouch and assault rifle. "I'll stay on the navy boat. Please, I have to go," she pleaded.

His grip on her shoulder was unrelenting. "It's too dangerous," he explained.

"Why? The navy will protect me," she argued, trying to shrug him off.

She could see the flint in his eyes. "It's too close to the action. You'll be a distraction, I'm sorry."

Intellectually she knew he was right. But Tara was so close, she needed to be in place when they found her. Her shoulders slumped in defeat and she stepped back to the quay.

He jumped onto the patrol boat and it was on its way. He turned and gave her a thumbs up.

She watched as it moved off and quickly made its way across the bay toward its target. The darkening shadows of sunset gave it a modicum of cover, even though the officers weren't relying entirely on stealth.

She pulled her arms around her middle, and waited.

"Hell of a day."

She jumped as a vaguely familiar voice rang out by her side. "Faith! Shit!"

She tried to run but the girl seized her arm and held it strongly. "Nice and easy, Red. Just old friends running into each other while on vacation," Faith said sedately.

Willow was silent, her mind churning.

"Well, looks like you and blondie has it all wrapped up. I swear, I thought his veins would pop out," Faith continued conversationally.

"What do you want, Faith? It's over. Look over there, the police will be there in a minute," Willow said. It occurred to her that Faith might already have alerted to yacht, so she had to try to keep the girl occupied for as long as possible. "Even if you told them, they're no match for the law."

"What makes you think I called it in?"

Willow was taken aback, and finally managed to yank her arm out of Faith's grip. Faith made no effort to grab her again. "You mean you didn't? Your precious boss?"

Faith snorted. "He sent me up here to search for you, but I saw you walk out of the station house with the Terminator army. I never finished high school but I ain't stupid. I know when it's time to cut my losses."

Willow laughed. "He sure knows how to pick his staff. Talk about undying loyalty."

"Un-dying being the operative word. At least I know I can trust my own people."

"The Albanians?" Willow took a chance to ask. She had nothing to lose, and Faith didn't seem to see her as a threat.

Faith smirked. "I can see why blondie gets wet thinking about you. You're one smart cookie."

Willow didn't say anything.

"Well, my ride's here. I'd say goodbye but I don't mean it. Don't intend to see you or blondie ever again." And with that, Faith vaulted over the dockside fence and into a speedboat that had just pulled alongside. A roar later and she was gone.

That conversation took only five minutes, and by the time Faith disappeared the patrol boat had reached the yacht and members of the strike force were jumping onto the larger boat. Willow was amazed at the difference in size, the yacht was almost three times the length of the patrol boat, although with guns and a Royal Navy emblem the patrol boat exuded its own power.

As expected there was resistance and Wilkins' men rushed on deck to meet their attackers. But the professionalism of the police force prevailed and Wilkins' men lost the fight very quickly. Officers from the navy helped guard the arrested while the three assault teams continued below deck.

A few minutes later scattered gunshots could be heard. Willow started praying that none of the hostage were caught in the fire. No. Don't go there.

All the action was inside now and she couldn't tell what was going on. A loud bang, hoarse shouts and even more gunshots rang out. A crowd had started to gather on the dock to witness the commotion.

Where are you?

Eventually all was quiet and shortly afterwards officers started appearing, escorting figures wrapped in gray blankets. She tried to see the faces underneath the blankets but the yacht was too far away to afford a clear view. Someone whose size suggested Luke. A small frail figure who needed to be helped onto the patrol boat, Aunt Hallie perhaps. More unknown shapes. Some being stretchered off. Several limping uniformed figures of the strike force. A medium-sized figure walking stiffly, with two officers either side and a third walking behind holding his weapon tightly. Must be Wilkins.

No sign of Tara.

"Come on, come on," she heard herself repeating.

And finally a tall officer emerged, carrying someone in his arms. The gray blanket obscured her view, but she knew. She knew. Why couldn't Tara walk by herself? Was she hurt? She wasn't moving. What was the matter with her?

It was a long, excruciating wait for the patrol boat to return, but it finally did.

The journey across the bay took only a few minutes and as the boat drew nearer, Willow had to stop herself from jumping into the water and swimming up. She couldn't see Tara, in the sea of faces lining the deck of the boat, an interesting alternation of blue uniforms and gray blankets.

She had to crane her neck to see the boat land, such was the crowd of onlookers who had gathered. Several officers made their way onto the quayside and started herding the crowd to make a passageway for the passengers.

She looked and looked.

And then they saw each other.

Tara looked so tired, but blue eyes lit up when they met hers.

"Tara!" she tried to shout, but no sound came out.

Like a beacon, Tara called out to her and she pushed her way through the crowd. Tara had by then been helped off the boat and she too was struggling through the solid wall of people.

One step closer. Two. Three.

Nothing, nobody would get in their way.

And then they were. With an unrestrained whoop of joy, Willow picked Tara up and spun her around in a tight circle. It didn't matter that they were squashed within an unforgiving sea of people, when lips crashed together it was the feel, the sight, the smell and the taste of home.

Continue to Lamplight Chapter Forty-Two

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