"Damn," Willow whispered to herself as she set up her sleeping bag. "Double damn! Why is this so hard? Tara, I should just say, I think you're pretty. I like you. Since we're stuck together on this island, do you want to split a coconut with me sometime? No, that sounds dirty. Don't sound dirty. Want a bite of my banana? No, that's even worse. Want to make out with me? Oh, subtle, Rosenberg. Why can't there be a Starbucks on this island? This is so much easier when you can ask them out for coffee..."
"When you can ask who out for coffee?"
Willow jumped and spun around to see Tara - and then her jaw dropped as she saw Tara. She'd been taking advantage of the others' absence, as all of them had claimed their own space and gone for walks, to use a towel she'd appropriated from the fuselage and the cold spring water outside the cave to grab a quick bath. She stood in the cave's entrance, framed by the golden sunlight streaming in behind her, in a pair of fatigues and a lacy white bra, her shirt draped over one arm. Her blonde hair dripped water down her shoulders and back, and the cold water had brought her nipples to attention, clearly standing out through her bra. Willow desperately tried to get her brain to cooperate with her mouth. "Um...that is, I mean..."
Tara smiled. "Are you always this talkative?"
"Tara, I...uh..." Willow cursed herself inwardly and tried to tear her eyes from Tara's chest.
"Willow?" Tara asked with a hint of amusement in her voice. "Eyes are up here."
Willow flushed an angry shade of red. "Sorry," she muttered, starting to turn away. Tara came closer and took Willow's hand in her own.
"Don't be sorry. Willow, if you're interested, just ask. I won't say no. And..." she added with a wink and a half-smile, "I'll share a coconut with you anytime."
"You heard all of that?"
"Sorry - you were babbling, and it was too damn cute to interrupt."
Willow reached up and brushed a wet strand of hair out of Tara's blue eyes. Their gazes locked, and she started to lean forward - when a roar and Buffy's scream of "RUN!" snapped them out of their reverie.
Tara sighed and pulled her shirt on. "Get the gun," she said to Willow. She did, and handed it to Tara without thinking twice. They ran from the tent in the direction of the scream, arriving in moments at the clearing where Buffy stood face to face with...
"Is that a polar bear?" Willow whispered.
"Couldn't tell you on a bet," Tara whispered back, taking the safety off the pistol. "Buffy," she whispered. "You need to move!"
"Is Dawn still here?"
Tara looked around and quickly spied the frightened teenager huddled against a tree. "Yes."
"Then I'm not-" without warning, the bear lunged forward and backhanded Buffy with its massive paw, knocking her flying. It lowered its head and charged at Tara, and she smoothly put a bullet through its eye. The bear fell to the ground with a heavy thud, and Tara dropped the gun. She staggered a few steps, dropped to her knees and vomited.
"Tara?" Willow cried, and rushed to her side.
"I'm...okay," she said, starting to heave again. "Check on Buffy."
Willow and Dawn reached Buffy at the same time, and Willow stood back to let the girl through.
"Buffy? Buffy, are you ok?"
"Dawn..." she whispered, her eyes fluttering. "You. Okay?"
"I'm fine, Buffy - wake up!" her eyes had slipped closed, and her head fell back.
"Dawn," Willow insisted. "Dawn - go and get the doctor! Go now!"
"Go!" she yelled, and Dawn tore through the treeline toward the beach.
Willow tried to remember the basic medical training she'd received at the academy. "Okay," she whispered. "Pulse strong, breathing okay, no obvious fractures...is it just the head trauma?"
As she cradled Buffy in her arms, she watched Tara rise from her knees and wander toward the Polar Bear's corpse, tears in her eyes. She knelt beside the animal and stroked its head. "I'm sorry," she said loudly. "Fuck...I didn't want to...forgive me."
"I would so do that Jenkins chick," the young woman said to her companion as they left the theatre. The heart-shaped "One Heart" marquee stood out clearly against the night sky.
"Faith, you'd do anyone."
"Tara, that's just a lie. And don't call me Faith."
"Fine, Anne. I don't know why you're so anal about your first name."
"It's a stupid name. The curse of having a mom who wishes she'd been a hippie."
"I like your name. Now, back to my point - who wouldn't you do?"
"My math professor."
"Exactly. So, I told you about this trip I'm taking, right?"
"Yes, Faith. You haven't shut up about it since they accepted you."
"Sorry - but it's huge! I mean, Drusilla Adams - I've read everything she's ever written! I can't believe they'd accept me - I'm just a freshman!"
"Anne, you're a freshman who was valedictorian of a class of 375, with perfect scores on four of your diploma exams. Why would they not accept you?"
"Flattery will get you nowhere. Now, what about you? Are the acceptance letters piling up on your desk?"
"Yeah," Tara said, looking away. "Just have to decide where I want to go."
"Excellent. Too bad you're starting a semester later than me - it would have been nice to have you in some of my classes."
"I wouldn't have been in any of your classes anyway, F-Anne."
"I guess. You okay, Tare?"
"I'm fine. Want to go and get drunk?"
"Thought you'd never ask."
Dawn burst into Angel's makeshift tent. "Help!" she gasped.
"Dawn? What's wrong?"
"Where?" he asked, snapping up his black bag. She pointed to the path she'd taken. Angel turned to Connor. "Can you stay here with Dawn?"
Angel left the tent and took off running down the path.
"You okay?" Connor asked gently.
Still out of breath, Dawn looked at him thankfully. "I'm scared," she admitted. Connor gestured for her to take a seat, and sat down beside her. He cautiously put his arm around her, and when she didn't stop him he left it there, holding her gently.
In the jungle, Gunn threw off his drug-induced haze and stood up, staggering a little as he straightened up too quickly. He looked around for Spike. He found the spot where he'd fallen, marked by his leather jacket, and drag marks leading a few feet, but they disappeared.
"Spike!" he yelled. "Spike!" There was no answer but the singing of the birds. Gunn started to run to the cave, and was nearly halfway there when his foot struck something solid. He fell heavily and cursed, turning back to see what he'd hit. Sweeping the leaves and branches from the object, he sat back in shock when he realized he'd uncovered some kind of hatch. Knowing he couldn't stop and investigate now, he covered it back up and continued his run to the cave.
"That you, Tara?" her father called out as she came through the door.
"Excellent! Come out back and look at what I caught!"
Tara shivered. Living on an acreage meant they had a lot of wild animals around, and her father seemed to delight in seeing how many of them he could catch in his traps. Knowing she'd hear about it if she didn't come, though, she left the house through the back door and found him next to a trap. The sight she saw filled her with horror. A wild rabbit, scared out of its mind and shaking with pain and fear, was caught by its leg in her father's trap. He grinned at her.
"Look at that! Rabbit stew tonight!" He rubbed his hands together. "Get the gun."
"Daddy," she whispered. "No. We should let him go..."
"Are you crazy, girl? That's two days' supper! Go and get the damn gun!"
She did, and when she returned with it she tried to hand it to him. With a sadistic glint in his eye, he refused. "You do it, girl."
"You can't? All those hours of practice, the money I let you spend at the range, and you can't hit a stationary target?"
"No, it's...please, don't ask me to..."
"Shoot it, girl! You're never going to be a farmer if you can't put an animal out if its misery."
She leveled the .22 rifle against her shoulder and stared down the sights into the rabbit's black eyes. With a silent prayer for forgiveness, she closed her eyes and squeezed the trigger...
"Buffy?" Angel called as he forced her eyes open and shone a small light into them. "Buffy, can you hear me?"
"Ugh..." she moaned. "Bright..." Her eyes cleared for a second, and burned with a feverish intensity. "Angel? Did you see this bear? The other day, in the jungle? Tell me what you saw!" She lapsed back into semi-conciousness.
"Good, you're awake. We need to move you. Can you stand, or do you need us to carry you?"
"Stand..." she whispered, but quickly staggered once she was on her feet. Tara, now recovered, draped one of Buffy's arms over her while Angel did the same. "Willow," Tara asked, "can you run to the caves ahead of us and soak my towel in the water? We can put it on her head when we get there." Willow nodded and took off running.
"Good thought," Angel said.
"Thanks. How bad is she?"
"I think it's a concussion. Nothing too serious, but she needs to stay off her feet for a couple of days."
"Will you be moving to the caves, then? Fuck, that was inappropriate. Sorry. Forget I asked."
"No problem," he smiled. "I would, but Connor wants to stay on the beach. I'll be back to check on her every day, though. And if I give you a list of things to watch out for, can you keep an eye on her?"
They managed to get Buffy laid out and comfortable on her sleeping bag, the cool towel on her head, before Gunn crashed through the trees.
"Somebody took Spike!"
"What?" Tara asked.
"Spike! We were walking through the woods and we found this stuffed bear, and he picked it up and this net thing came up around him! I tried to run, but somebody shot me with this" he held up a dart to illustrate his point, "and when I woke up he was gone!"
"There wasn't a trank gun in the luggage," Tara said, almost to herself. "That means someone else..."
"Yeah, Willow. Somebody must be on this island besides us. Angel, head back to the beach. If someone's out there shooting us with trank guns, we need to get everyone together. I don't care if they don't want to come to the cave or not, it's the only safe option for everyone. Go now."
"And what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to look for Spike. Willow, can you-"
"Tara, I'm coming with you."
"I need someone to stay with Buffy."
"Why can't he do that?"
"Because I need him to lead me to the spot."
Willow frowned. Tara moved between her and Gunn, turning her back on him so he couldn't see the rest of the exchange. "Willow," she whispered. "I'll be okay. And I'll come back and finish our talk from this morning - I swear."
Willow trembled a little. "Please...be careful."
Tara silenced her with a too-brief kiss. "You too."
Turning back, she walked over to Gunn. "I'm sorry," she said, "I don't remember your name."
"Gunn. Charles Gunn."
"Okay, Gunn. Lead me where Spike was taken. Can you do that?"
In Angel's tent, Connor's comforting had turned to kissing, and he and Dawn were getting hot and heavy when the tent flap was pulled open. They pulled guiltily away from each other, and Angel was seemingly too distracted to notice.
"Both of you pack your things. We're moving everyone to the caves. Someone attacked Spike and Gunn, and it wasn't any of us."
"Don't argue with me, Connor! This is the only safe option for everyone!"
He closed the tent flap, then stuck his head in again. "And Dawn, you might want to fix your shirt before we go." She colored and looked away.
As the last of the survivors claimed space in the cave, Tara and Gunn were reaching the spot. Gunn pointed to the net. "See? That's what got Spike."
"And it was hooked to...that?" she pointed to the bear.
"Why were you picking up a teddy bear anyway?"
"Spike's idea - he wanted to bring it to the cave, see if it belonged to anyone."
"I see. And you found his jacket right there?" she pointed.
"Right there, yeah. See the marks? It looks like somebody dragged him, but then they just stop."
Tara knelt and examined the tracks. "It does. But tracks don't just vanish. Search around for twenty or thirty feet, see if you can find any trace of them. We have to find those tracks."
"Really don't, blondie," Spike's voice came from behind her.
"What the hell? Spike?"
"I am," he said. Gunn walked toward him, but Spike held up a hand. "Uh, I wouldn't come any closer, mate."
Spike took a slow step forward, and from the shadows behind him came Faith, still holding the tranquilizer gun to his back. "That's why."
Tara stared in shock at Spike's captor. "Faith?" there was no response. She tried again. "Anne?"
That got a reaction, as the woman turned her head to gaze at Tara. "Tare?"
Coming soon, on Misplaced:
Willow, staring at Tara with a hurt expression.