She came to and immediately realized that she couldn't move. She was still dizzy from the attack didn't quite have her senses about her. She went to raise her hand to see if she was bleeding from where she'd been hit. It was only then that she realized she was tied to a chair in the center of her living room. She immediately began to panic and when she went to scream she realized that she was gagged. She was sure she was going to die and her first thought was that she didn't want Faith to find her there dead. She felt the tears begin and she was hoping that by some miracle someone else would find her first. She didn't want this to be the way that Faith would remember her. She found it amazing that her instant reaction was to pray. This was not something she had done with regularity, but she wasn't an atheist either. She had always believed in a higher power. Some kind of guiding force. If she was surprised by the fact that she was actually praying she was more surprised by the fact that it was calming her. It felt natural. Almost instinctive. Whether that calm was coming from a higher power or whether it was coming from some part of her psyche, she didn't know. It really didn't matter to her. She was grateful to have it either way. She was taken away from her thoughts when she heard a voice speaking behind her.
"So you back with us then? Alright good. I'm sorry I had to hit you but judging from the trophies, I have a feeling that you could probably kick my ass. I need you to listen to me and I need you to listen to me good. I have a strong suspicion that you and I have something in common. There's someone whose very life may well depend on how we handle a certain situation. I'm here because I think her survival is in your hands at this point. There's some people who suspect you may be involved in something you shouldn't be. I've made you a list and the names on it are all names that you're going to recognize. This is working in your favor in two ways. One way is to make sure that you watch what you say. The other way is to say what you want them to hear. We need to think of this as a game, and right now it's your turn. This is a game in which timing is critical. There's a very important timeline here that needs to be followed to a tee. There's an important piece of information coming your way. In it you'll find everything you need to end this and make sure that the responsible parties are held accountable. I'm sorry I have to do it this way, but I'm not quite sure that you would be able to hold off before all the pieces are in the right places. Acting too quickly on this would be as good as killing them both. Not to mention myself. I can't let that happen. I made her a promise and I intend on keeping it."
She heard footsteps and then her door opening. And closing.
'What the hell? What information? You didn't say what the information was. Cryptic much? And why didn't he untie me? God. I got to call Willow. And I gotta pee.'
"So, you wanna get out of here?" Faith said to Sherry.
Sherry was well on her way to be drunk and Faith knew that she would need to get her home quickly before she wouldn't be able to tell her where she lived.
"Where do you wanna go?" Sherry asked.
"I was thinking your place maybe?"
"You got it." She leaned forward and tried to place a kiss on Faith's lips. Faith moved backwards and stopped her.
"Are you crazy? I got a lotta people here know me. I don't wanna lose my meal ticket. We gotta wait till we get to your place."
"Alright then. Let's go."
"You got anything to drink at your place?"
"Yeah, I have beer, wine, couple bottles of whiskey, tequila."
"Perfect. Let's head out."
They drove to Sherry's apartment and went inside. Faith went over and took out two shot glasses and poured them each a shot of tequila.
"So you got any salt or lime in there?"
"Yeah sure. I get you some."
Sherry got up and Faith looked behind her to make sure she wasn't behind her. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small white envelope. She turned around to check once again and then shook a little of the contents out and into Sherry's shot. She quickly put it away and when Sherry came back in she took the salt and lime. She sprinkled some salt on her hand and then picked up her glass and raised it to Sherry in a toasting gesture. She swallowed her shot and Sherry followed slowly behind.
"You wanna another one?" Faith asked.
"Sure, why not."
Faith got up from the couch they where sitting in and headed toward the bar.
'10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,' she counted down to herself. She turned around and Sherry was out, lying sideways on her couch.
"Well, that worked just like you said it would. Gotta love some of those inmates."
Faith then picked up Sherry and carried her into her bedroom.
"Sorry Buffy, I ain't lookin', I promise."
She proceeded to undress Sherry and laid her on the bed. She reached into her other pocket and pulled out a pair of underwear and threw them over her shoulder allowing them to fall on the ground.
"Gotta make it look good. Now, where to start? Well I guess the cell phone's a good a place as any." Faith picked up the phone and began going through the outgoing calls list. She took out a piece of paper and started to write down the numbers.
"Maybe if I just lean all the way over to one side I can..." Thunk.
"Great plan Buffy," she said to herself as she was now laying on her side, arms tied behind her back to the chair, ankles tied to the legs. "Stupid English cryptic guy. 'Here I made you a list, look for clues, blah blah blah'," Buffy said in a mocking tone as she tried to move across the room in inchworm-like movements while still on her side tied to the chair.
She heard the front door open and Faith call out her name.
"Faith. I'm over here. Hurry up and untie me."
"Untie you? Wow, if it's on with the kink then I should go on dates more often."
She saw Buffy then and realized it wasn't so much of a joke.
"Damn B are you alright? What happened?"
"First of all please untie me, second of all I bet if I could see a clock right now I'd be really pissed at you. And thirdly I have to pee. Actually move the pissed at you to third and the having to pee to second."
"Really Buffy what happened?"
"I came home, there was a guy in here, he cold conked me and tied me to this chair. He told me that he left a list of names and that I would be getting some kind of information about Tara's case that will blow it all open."
Once untied Buffy headed to the bathroom and when she came back she saw Faith looking at the list with a look of shock on her face.
"What is it Faith?"
"You ain't gonna believe this."
Buffy walked over and Faith handed her the list. It had seven names on it, every one of them were employees at the prison.
"Oh my God. He told me that these were people I wanted to be careful with. He was basically tell me to not say anything around them and to feed them false information. They must all be involved with this somehow. They're probably on his payroll. He also said that they were suspicious of me. I think he was trying to tell me to try and get them to believe I don't have a clue about what's going on."
"Are you sure it's not a setup?"
"No, it couldn't be. If he was working with them he would have killed me."
"Or he is working with them, but has now decided that he wants to work against them."
"Double agent kind of thing you mean?"
"Well I tell you what, I believe him," Buffy said pointing to a name on the list, "because Leon Tressle was the guard on duty at the front tower when Willow and I set that meeting up with Tara."
"And look there. Sherry Walker," Faith added. "Speaking of which, I looked through her whole place B and I couldn't find a damn thing. I got some phone numbers off her cell phone but that's about it."
"Well that's cool anyway. They might prove useful at some point. The big thing was to get into their circle without them being suspisious. Do you think you pulled that off?"
"Oh yeah. Sherry and I had a rockin' good time. Or at least she'll think we did. Oh and by the way, you don't have a full week's set of underwear anymore. You're missing Thursday."
"So I guess that you're going back to Huntsville in a few of hours," Willow said to Tara.
"Yes, um, six to be exact," Tara said.
There was a deafening silence in the room. Neither of the two dare to speak aloud the possibility that this could be the last time they would ever see each other .
"Willow..." Tara paused and cleared her throat. "I don't want you there. If the time comes, I know you and I know you'll try to come there."
"No, no. Don't you dare. Don't you say that to me. You are not going through that alone. I won't let you."
"Willow. Listen to me. I can't stand the thought of you hurting because of me. I don't want my last image of you to be you in pain because of me. Knowing that it's my fault."
"Your fault? Your fault? Tara, there is not a single thing about this that is your fault," Willow said, her voice shaking with emotion. "And you are not the cause of any of this."
Willow stood up from her chair and walked across the room to where Tara was standing, leaning against the wall, looking out the window.
Tara heard her approach but kept her gaze to the view outside the window. "Willow, I want to see Abby grow up. I want to wake up in your arms and make love with you before I go to sleep. I want to go to school plays and parent-teacher conferences." She then turned to face Willow. "I'm scared, and that makes me feel weak," Tara said as she began to cry. "I don't want to die."
Her whole body was trembling now. She had never admitted this. Never allowed herself to be the victim. She could do that now. She could do it because Willow had gotten through to her. Willow had shown her that someone could indeed love her and need her as much as she needed them. And above all she had found someone who could be strong when she was just no longer capable of it.
Willow went to her then, put her arms around her and held her as she at last allowed herself to be scared for herself.
"Oh Tara I know, I know you're scared. I'm scared too baby. It's okay. You're allowed to be. It doesn't make you weak. It makes you human. And I am not going to let you die. I will find your daughter. I truly believe that. We're going to have and do all of those things. I promise you."
THREE DAYS LATER
She walked down the rows of graves until she came to the one she was looking for. She knelt down and began to set up her arrangement. She stuck the small metal stick into the ground and set the half dozen yellow roses at the front of the stone. "Don't think I've forgotten about you." She paused for a moment and spun the butterfly shaped pinwheel with her finger. "I miss you Anya."
Tara was expecting the visit. He always came on the same day of every month. She was taken from her cell and led to the visitor's station. She saw him there and made her way to the cubicle and sat down. She picked up the yellow phone and placed it to her ear.
"Well hey there little sis. All ready for the big day?"
She didn't answer him. Just sat waiting for what she came there for.
"It's coming up pretty quick here ain't it?" She still said nothing.
"Well if you're not sure let me remind you. It's in twenty-two days. I can tell you somethin' that's as sure as I'm sittin' here talkin' to ya, there's a whole lot a folks can't wait to see it come around. Especially me.
"Ain't you got nothin' to say about that? Well fine then. Your loss. Anyway there darlin' listen here. Your big brother's got a surprise for ya today. I got you a nice little picture of that little darlin' of yours and since I'm such a nice guy, I done made arrangements for you to actually hang on ta this one here. What ya think of that, hum? Don't say I never done nothin' for ya."
Donny chuckled a bit and said, "Oh well look at that face. Did I upset ya Tara? I bet if you could get on out a there you'd probably want to jump right over here and put me six feet under wouldn't ya'?"
Tara looked at him and said, "No. I couldn't."
Donny laughed and said, "Really? And why's that?"
"Because you're still my brother."
Tara then waved over for the guard, got up and walked away. Donny just sat, the smirk gone right off his face and for the first time in a long time he didn't have the feeling that he had just caused his sister to feel worse then she did when he got there. He got up from his chair, pushed it back in under the table and left the room angry.
Willow made her way into the barn at Tara's father's ranch. She had a feeling of discomfort here due to the fact that Tara had told her in detail about the night of the shooting. She quickly looked around for the wall that the fishing rods were supposed to be hanging on. She spotted them and made her way to the wall. She saw the tackle box and reached up and pulled it down. She opened it, retrieved the key and made her way to the house.
She took out the map Tara had drawn and made her way to her father's bedroom. She opened the door and was immediately disappointed. Somebody had ransacked this room and she automatically knew why. If there had been anything that she could have used in here it was long gone.
She made her way down the hall and stopped as she saw the rows of pictures that hung on the walls. They were pictures of Tara and Donny that were obviously set in sequence of school years. She was amazed at how beautiful Tara looked in every picture. She found herself entranced, she was studying them, trying to lock them in her memory. She had been away from Tara for three days and she felt like she hadn't seen her in a lifetime. She knew she had to move quickly. She could be surprised by anyone of Donny's cohorts or even Donny himself.
She made her way to Donny's bedroom and turned the knob to enter the door and found it locked.
"Shit," Willow said to herself and made the decision to go downstairs and try to find some way to possibly pry the door open. She got to the kitchen area and grabbed a butterknife and made her way upstairs again. She tried to pry the door with the knife and realized it wasn't going to work. She went back down stairs and was returning to the kitchen to see if she could find something else that might work. On her way she saw the rows of Abby's pictures Tara had told her about. She stopped and looked them over. A smile immediately broke over her face and she was amazed at how much the little girl resembled her mother.
She saw the picture that Tara had told her would be the most recent and made a mental note of it, remembering to pick it up after she had finished searching Donny's room. She corrected herself - if she searched Donny's room. She knew she couldn't leave any evidence of anyone ever having been in the house in case Donny would notice and that would be the end of it. Tara had assured her that taking the picture would go unnoticed because Donny probably didn't even notice it was there. There were so many pictures it would be difficult to notice one was missing even if you did care.
She was making her way back upstairs when she thought she heard something. She stood perfectly still and stopped breathing, trying to hear if the noise was indeed what she thought it was. It was. She ran down the steps and looked out the window and then she saw it. It was a squad car and it was pulling up into the driveway of the house. She stood there petrified. Her brain said to move but her body wasn't cooperating. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest and she could hear it in her ears.
She looked around to try and find an exit and she realized that the only one that she could safely use would be the back kitchen door. She would have to time it just right because it would be visible to Donny until the point he got to the front porch where the view would then be blocked by the wall that enclosed the patio. She was panicking now. Desperately trying to gauge the view point Donny would have once he entered the house.
She quickly figured that her best escape route would be to go out and around the back off the house and try to make it across to the rows of sunflowers that lined the bordering fence between the neighboring property. She made her way to the back door and waited to hear the sound of Donny's shoes as he stepped onto the porch. The picture. Damn it she needed the picture.
She made her way back to the living room and as she got to the entry hall that led from the kitchen to the living room she heard the front door knob wiggling and realized she had just lost her one and only chance for escape. He was in the house now and so was she.
Willow wasn't sure how long she had been hiding in the pantry. She knew it had to have been at least an hour because she was forced to listen to the dialog of two back-to-back episodes of Bass Masters on ESPN. She was grateful when she heard the channels changing because she feared if he had watched one more episode that she might fling herself from the pantry closet, leap in front of the TV, and beg to be put out of her misery. Her relief was brief however, and she groaned silently when she heard the words, "Last time on the Real World."
She heard footsteps and in the kitchen and the sound of what she figured was a beer bottle landing on another one in the trash can. She heard him open the refrigerator, move something around and say, "Oh come on now, I can't be outta beer already," to himself.
Willow answered him mentally, 'Yes, yes you are, and you need to go buy some more, please.'
Buffy walked into the main mail room where she knew Faith would be. Every piece of mail that was sent to the prison had to be opened and checked before it was delivered to the inmates. She saw Faith sitting at her desk staring at a particular piece of mail. Buffy could tell by her face that she was upset.
"Hey, you okay?" she asked Faith as she walked over to her.
Faith didn't answer. She held the letter out to Buffy and then Buffy realized why she was upset.
It was a letter from the Attorney General stating that the appeal hearing for Tara had been held and that due to lack of any new evidence no stay had been granted. Her execution would proceed as scheduled.
"Did you find anything as far as evidence goes like that British guy told you?" Faith asked her voice a bit shaky.
Buffy sat down next to Faith. She placed her hand on top of Faith's that was resting on the table.
"No, I didn't. I don't even know where to look," Buffy said.
Faith sat digesting this for a moment.
"God damn it!" Faith yelled as she pushed the remaining mail off the table violently. She put her other hand up to cover her eyes. Then she started to cry. Buffy put her arm around her and gently encouraged her head to her shoulder and held it there.
"I know, I know this is awful and totally unfair. I also know that we still have some time. I haven't given up. Willow is looking, I'm looking and you're looking. Between the three of us we'll find something."
Buffy didn't believe her own words, but she wouldn't tell Faith that. Buffy closed her eyes and rested her cheek on top of Faith's head and she to began to cry.
"Look Faith. You need to finish the mail. We can't let on that were involved in this in any way. That's what we have to do to help Tara right now. That was the one thing that I understood from our friend from the other night. Okay?"
There was a knock on the door and Buffy and Faith quickly wiped their eyes and Buffy got up to get the door.
"Warden Summers. These are those personal files you asked for from Lincoln Security," the young man said as he handed the files to Buffy.
"Why do you need those Buffy," Faith asked.
"I had a bad feeling about a tech that was here the other day. New girl. I'd never seen her before. She seemed to me that she didn't know what she was doing. Kept asking to go and see cameras on F block. Just seemed strange," Buffy said, glancing upward quickly, to be sure her audience was still in the room.
"Will that be all Warden?" he asked.
"Yeah Jimbo, that's it. Thanks."
The young guard turned and left the room.
"Good job Faith. You think he bought it?"
"I'll find out soon enough." Faith answered.
Faith got up and walked out of the office. She turned and headed toward the block to disperse the mail. She passed by Jimbo and noticed he was on his cell phone. "Yeah, he bought it," Faith said to herself.
"He's a bloody loose cannon," Spike said as he sat talking to some of the members of the ring. "Someone needs to talk to him, or better yet, kill the son of a bitch. I guarantee if we go down is going to be his bloody fault. Every bit of trouble we've been in is do to his inability to think before he acts. First he kills the old man, then he gets caught in the act by his sister. Now from what I hear he took out a lawyer who was working his sister's case, then he has the sister beaten nearly to death the following day. And just yesterday someone broke into the warden's house a knocked her about a bit. And I will damn near bet he did that one too."
"He's right you know. He's a lot of trouble," one of the members spoke to the other.
"I think its time we have a meeting with old Donny boy don't you think?" the other member asked.
"Set it up Spike."
Tara sat in her cell holding the picture of Abby that Donny had left. For the hundredth time that day she began to trace the little girl's facial features with her finger. The smile never left Tara's face. "Hey Abby," she spoke to the picture, "Mama wants to tell you about somebody. Her name is Willow. She has red hair, beautiful green eyes, and the cutest little nose I've ever seen, well, next to yours of course. She smart and she's funny and she tends to go on for minutes at a time about absolutely nothing at all. She's a lot like you sweetie. What I really want you to know though is this. She's looking for you. And you know what else? I think she's going to find you. So you just hang in there honey,and remember that Mama loves you more then anything in this whole, wide, world."
As Willow sat in the pantry closet, she found the her plea to Donny to go and get some more had worked. She heard car keys jingling and then she heard footsteps heading toward the front door. She placed her hand on the doorknob, ready to bolt as soon as she heard him pull away in his car. She heard the front door open and...
"Hey B.Good news. He seems to have bought it. He was on the cell right out side the door."
"Well that's one good thing that's happened today," Buffy answered while pressing buttons on her cell phone.
"Who ya calling?" Faith asked.
"Willow," Buffy answered.
...just as he was about to walk out the door Willow heard the ringing phone.
"What the hell?" Donny said as he turned back and headed toward the kitchen.