I find a spot at the bar. God knows where this dive actually is, its not in Old Town that's for sure and I'm glad. I down another shot and set the glass down with the others. There are quite a few of them and it's the only way I can tell I've had too much to drink. Head feels fine except for the fact its working overtime, too much thinking. I know that's bad because too much thinking will get a person killed.
Tara caught the bartender's eye which wasn't hard as she was one of only two customers seated at the bar. The other was a dark shape huddled at the far end that hadn't moved in the past hour. She nodded towards her empty shot glass, indicating for it to be filled yet again. The stony-faced man grabbed the bottle of Jack from the shelf behind him and poured into Tara's glass, filling it just shy of overflowing. Tara nodded her thanks and studied the glass intently.
She knew she should leave, get the hell out of Basin City and never look back. The best idea would be for her to find the smallest corner of the biggest city and wait until the heat over her escape died down. That thought made Tara smirk. If Glory continued to be involved she would probably have to spend the next decade or two in hiding, not much of a life. Still, it was better than the alternative of staying in Old Town and being responsible for an all out war. She knew Glory wouldn't even have to pull too many strings to do it. Cops loved hunting down escaped prisoners and Tara suspected that she was number one on Basin City's 'Most Wanted' list thanks to the influence of a certain madam. The cops would storm Old Town, they'd be pissed as hell when the Ladies started fighting back and they'd kill and rape without mercy. There was no way in hell Tara was letting that happen while Willow was in Old Town...and a part of her also felt responsible for the other women despite the fact that it went against her better judgement.
I start reaching for the drink, despite the amount I've consumed I still want to feel another one slip down my throat. I pause with my arm half outstretched as a thought runs through my mind. What the hell is keeping me here? I should leave, now, I have nothing to pack, I have no money but there are ways around that...I'd pay a visit to Evie, she'd help me out for old time's sake and I'd be on a bus within the hour. But I'm not leaving...
I'm still here because I know Glory will have her cops storm Old Town regardless of whether I am there or not. I could broadcast my absence to the bloody heavens and she'd still come in guns blazing. She knows Willow's here and if she can't have me, she'll get Willow. I'll give myself up, that's the only way out of this. It'll save Willow and Old Town and the only price to pay is an ex-cop who isn't worth a damn anyway.
But I'm not on my way to do that either, something Faith said got to me and made me realise these women don't give up their own lightly. For the fucked up reason that Willow loves me, I'm one of them by association and they're prepared to go to war for me. How can I say no to a gesture like that? Catch 22. I'm fucked whatever way I look at it.
Tara began reaching for the shot once more but a rude, gruff voice interrupted her with one word.
"What?" Tara growled, not bothering to look up.
"Who gives a fuck who I am?" her fingers closed around the shot glass
A massive hand slammed down on the bar and sent the liquid splashing out of the glass. It was only then that Tara looked over her shoulder with a stormy expression. Standing directly behind her was a solidly built man, a scraggly beard attached to his pockmarked face. He smiled and showed her several gold teeth behind his fat lips. At his shoulder was a taller, whip-thin man, so pale he was almost white. The one in front stepped even closer to Tara sitting on her stool and lifted his hand to his coat.
"I do...and so does Glory Talbot," Tara saw him pull back his coat slightly and she felt the hard barrel of a pistol jabbed into the small of her back, "Let's step outside so we don't disturb the other folks having a quiet drink."
"I will after you buy me another shot?" Tara indicated her spilt drink with a nod of her head.
With added malice, the bounty hunter rammed the pistol barrel into her back with an impressive display of strength. Tara did not even wince as she swivelled around on her stool and swung her legs to the floor. She stood and the squat man met the full force of her most intense gaze. If it intimidated him, his bearded face did not change in the slightest.
"Okay, okay, don't get your jock strap in a twist," Tara replied, allowing him to shove her towards the door.
No one paid the slightest attention to the trio as they left the bar. Both thugs stayed behind Tara, letting her lead them out. The cold air hit Tara in the face as she moved outdoors and stood in the dirty alleyway, a small smile on her face as she sensed the two of them fan out behind her. With the patience of one who had seen it all, Tara bided her time and waited for the right moment.
"Check her for weapons," the leader motioned to his pale companion with a wave of his stubby arm.
With a lecherous sneer the pale thug stepped towards Tara, he pressed his hand against her chest and threw her back against the wall behind her. Tara snarled and swiped his hand away with one of her own. He immediately recovered and slammed her back with all his might, moving his face so close to hers that she could smell the cheeseburger on his breath. With his free hand he began patting her down, taking his time in a thorough search.
"I'm not armed," Tara growled, "So you can get your filthy little hands off me before I rip your throat out!"
His pale face instantly morphed into a vision of rage at Tara's non-compliance. In a rather jerky, unprofessional movement he withdrew his weapon from the holster at his hip. Tara smirked when she saw the gold-plated monstrosity he was wielding, all show and no purpose. Even so, he levelled the weapon directly at the bridge of her nose. Tara knew he was completely capable of pulling the trigger. It would all be over, her brains splattered over the wall behind her.
"I'm gonna do you right now bitch!" he spluttered, his voice heavy with fake posturing, 'You can't talk to us...to me like dat and spect to git away wit it!."
Tara did not care what he was saying; the words were unimportant and flowed right over her. What she did care about was where his partner was standing just off to the left and the fact that he had reholstered his weapon. While keeping one eye on her surroundings, Tara kept the other on the lunatic with the golden gun pointed at her face. She watched the muzzle of the gun dance around with the cadence of his words, half the time it was pointed at the wall above her head.
The guys all over the place, waving his gun around like he's fucking dancing instead of trying to threaten someone. It's not threatening in the least, I'd laugh if he wasn't such a fucking lunatic. But it's the lunatics you've got to watch out for, they're unpredictable and don't give a damn about consequences. I'm not sure if their orders are to kill me or take me in alive, but it doesn't matter either way, they're not getting what they want. In fact, I'm bored and my lack of sleep is catching up on me, not to mention drunk and more than a little reckless. Time to put a stop to this nonsense...
"Wha' chu gonna say to dat bitch?" the lunatic jerked his weapon once again, failing to keep it trained on Tara.
"Goodnight," Tara replied in a deadpan voice.
She surged forward in one smooth movement and he hands moved upward to claim a strong grip on his arm. Before he had time to fire Tara had spun him around and jerked his arm up, forcing him to drop the gun into her waiting hand.
"What the..." the fat guy fumbled for his weapon as the events unfolded before him.
As he drew his pistol and brought it to bear on Tara, she fired one shot from his partners gold plated weapon. He let out a blood curdling scream and his gun clattered to the pavement along with his thumb. The weapon lay dented and useless as he jammed his wounded hand beneath his armpit in an effort to stop the bleeding. Still retaining her hold on the thin man in her arms, Tara ejected the clip from his weapon with one hand and it fell to the ground. She tossed the gun itself into a nearby dumpster.
The guns out of the equation, Tara turned her attention to the guys themselves. She grunted as the lunatic in her arms shoved his elbow backwards into her stomach. Winded, Tara's hold relaxed enough for him to twist his way out of her grasp. Once free, he delivered an uppercut to her jaw. He lacked the muscle to do any real damage but Tara's head snapped back with the impact. Shaking it off, she brought her own fists to bear and replied with a combination of her own to his head and stomach that sent him reeling straight back into his partner. Both men tumbled over one another and landed in a heap on the pavement.
The thug with a missing thumb angrily shoved his dazed partner aside and struggled to his feet. He lurched forward groggily, bloody spattering everywhere from his hand. He made a wild swing with his left with Tara avoided easily. She ducked and moved around his arm to deliver a swift kick to the side of his knee. There was a sickening crack as the knee snapped out of place. He dropped onto the wounded knee and squealed in pain as Tara calmly walked around him, keeping one eye on his partner who was beginning to rise out of his daze.
He was slipping face first into the ground and Tara helped him on his way with another powerful kick to the back of his head. His face slammed into the concrete, his nose breaking and blood splashing out on either side of him. He made no further move. As she spun around to deal with the remaining thug she was forced to dance backwards from an angry swipe directed at her face. The guy had pulled a knife from his boot. Tara winced as the tip of the blade caught her at her scalp line, she felt it slice through the thin skin. She felt the trickle of warm blood flow over her forehead and into her eye. Her opponent laughed, buoyed by the sight of blood and his slashing attack continued in earnest. His aim was erratic, driven by his anger rather than any skill. Tara kept him at an arms length, darting or ducking away from each swipe with time to spare.
There was limited room in the alleyway. Tara was fully aware of her surroundings and the placement on her feet on the rubbish-strewn ground. Her opponent was no so lucky; he slipped on the decomposing corpse of a cat. He flew forward and Tara only managed to twist slightly before he slammed into her body. She felt a searing pain in her side as she lifted one knee and shoved him aside. As he fell, the knife clattered to the pavement, its blade covered with blood. Tara angrily kicked it as hard as she could and it clattered several metres before coming to rest in a pile of refuse.
She was on the fallen thug in an instant, her fists flying in a flurry of controlled blows aimed mostly at his head.
I didn't know what my body was operating on, adrenaline and rage mostly. It was the thought of this guy or someone very like him doing to Willow what he had just done to me. The blows hurt me as well as him but I didn't care.
After several blows he was reduced to cowering on his knees with his arms over his head in a vain effort to stop them coming into contact with his head. Eventually, after one blow too many, he slumped to the pavement unconscious, his face a bloody mess. Tara took a step backwards and then another which was more of a stumble. Her head reeled and her body lurched sideways uncontrollably. She slammed into the dumpster like a drunkard. As she stood clinging to it, feeling incredibly dizzy, she knew she had to get away from the scene as soon as possible and back to Old Town. It was the only place where she could be sure the cops wouldn't get to her...yet. With a grunt she straightened herself up and looked at her handwork.
"Morons," Tara said to the pair of bodies.
As she stepped over the motionless body of the pale thug, she reached down and swiped the cigarettes and lighter from his pocket. Tara slid one from the pack as she continued walking and placed it between her lips, pausing for a moment before she lit it. It had been eight years since her last cigarette, smoked on that fateful night before her meeting with Talbot Junior. With one hand, Tara flicked the lighter open and watched the flame dance for a few moments. She stopped just short of lighting it, with a regretful sigh she snapped the lighter closed and pocketed it. She plucked the unlit cigarette from her lips and tossed it in the gutter along with the rest of the pack.
Being the stubborn individual that she was, Tara waved aside the rather half-hearted offer of help from the guards on the front door of the Golden Palace. It was nearing six am and the halls were mercifully empty. Tara didn't want to face any questions, especially from Faith.
Tara was vaguely aware that she was that she was bleeding all over the carpet as she half-dragged herself through the Palace. Although she decided that it mattered little when she glanced downwards and saw the carpet was already a deep, blood red. She made her way back to the room she had exited hastily a few hours earlier. During her brief glance around she had seen a first aid cabinet in there. When she entered the room she found it bathed in artificial light and a single occupant seated on the floor, sandwiched between one of the many couches and a solid coffee table. It was Willow, in front of her sat a large pile of books nearly completely covering the table. Se had obviously been writing before Tara interrupted her, a pile of different coloured pens lay at her elbow. There was a smudge of green at the corner of her mouth, probably as a result of chewing on her green pen. Willow was now staring up at Tara with a rather worried expression on her face as though she had been caught doing something terribly wrong. She hurriedly began gathering up her pens and papers.
"I'm sorry...I'll get out of your hair, just give me a moment to clear all this junk away."
Tara glanced at the books and papers nearest her. 'Criminal Law' was sitting beside a small sheaf of excruciatingly neat study notes. It was clear Willow made excellent use of her different coloured pens to organise the notes according to a system all of her own creation. The redhead was flustered as she tried to pick everything up at once, several of her pens were knocked to the floor. Tara bent to retrieve them.
"It's not rubbish...and you don't have to pack up on my account," Tara paused halfway through returning the pens as she realised she had smeared blood across their shafts.
Willow saw the pens and immediately looked up at Tara, her jaw dropped slightly at the sight of the bloody wound on the blonde's forehead. She started to get to her feet and Tara held out her hand,
"Stay put...I'm just patching myself up."
Willow dropped her armload of books to the table, they landed with a dull thud. The sound was akin to Tara's heart beating in response to the concern in Willow's eyes.
"You're hurt," Willow squeaked, "I mean, mortally wounded, 'hurt' is an understatement! How much blood have you lost? You're not going to keel over are you? Who did this to you? Just tell me and I'll have Faith make them wish they'd never laid eyes on you!"
"It's nothing, they came out far worse off than me," Tara wasn't sure whether she was reassuring Willow or herself.
Tara gently placed the blood-smeared pens on the table and rose to her feet as if to show Willow she was still capable of standing. She crossed to the First Aid cabinet fixed to the wall by the door. Willow waited mere seconds before scrambling to her feet and dashing to Tara's side just in case she did collapsed. Another whether she would have actually been able to catch her was another matter entirely. All she could do was look on anxiously as Tara selected supplies from the small cabinet.
"Tell me what to do, that cut on your head looks nasty. I can stitch you up, I'm pretty good at sewing...well, actually I'm terrible but I do have a steady hand."
Tara turned to Willow and dumped a pile of medical supplies into her arms. She have her a look that was almost a little rueful and took up a perch on the arm of a couch.
"You still babble," Tara commented, remembering the school kid that wouldn't shut up.
With one arm cradling packets of bandages and plasters, Willow dragged a stool across to Tara's side with the other.
"I never babble," Willow replied quietly, she paused speaking to rip open a packet of gauze with her teeth. She lifted her head to find Tara giving her a level stare and she broke, admitting her sin, "Okay, sometimes when I get excited, or nervous, or upset...okay a lot but I have a lot to say!"
Willow expected to at least provoke a smile from Tara but one was not forthcoming. Mildly irritated, Willow applied a liberal amount of disinfectant to the gauze and pressed it to the cut on Tara's forehead with no warning. Again the expected reaction did not emerge. Tara sat stoically without so much as flinching. Willow gave up and concentrated on cleaning the dried blood from around Tara's wound.
"Hmmm," She noted thoughtfully, "It's not as bad as I first thought, it won't need stitches, just a thorough clean and a dressing."
Tara's eyebrows raised in mild surprise at Willow's efficient appraisal, "And after all your babbling I thought you would faint on me."
"I thought you were going to faint. I'm not a babbling imbecile Tara," Willow grunted in annoyance at her own choice of words, "Okay, we've establish that I babble...but I'm not an imbecile!"
"I never said you were..."
"Just hard to accept an adult appraisal of the situation coming from me?" Willow shot back.
"No, not at all," Tara replied a little too quickly.
Willow placed down the bloodied gauze and set about cutting small lengths of tape.
"Stop lying," Willow argued as she pressed a fresh swatch of gauze to Tara's forehead and jammed the tape in place, she was satisfied when Tara winced noticeably, "There, it's not pretty but it'll do."
"Thanks a lot," Tara reached up to feel the snug little dressing with the tips of her fingers.
As she did so, Willow saw Tara's bruised and bloodied knuckles, another reminder of the vicious fight. Without a word, she reached out and took Tara's hand in her own. For the briefest of moments she held the hand gently. It was under the pretence of examining the wound but both Willow and Tara felt something more to it. However, just as the air was at its quietest and their eyes met above their shared touch, Willow turned her attention to the disinfectant and gauze. She didn't say a word before she began cleaning Tara's wounds.
"You seem to have had some practice?" Tara commented, watching Willow's deft and gentle little movements as she cleaned the blood from her hands, it still stung like hell but it was made bearable.
"What? At cleaning people up after vicious back alley fights?" Willow shook her head, "Not really no, Faith and the others pretty much keep me shielded from that sort of thing...even though I feel as though I would like to get in on it sometimes."
As Willow cleaned the raw knuckles, Tara watched her face. Her nose was wrinkled slightly in concentration as she focused on the task. Tara was able to study the curve of her cheek and the smattering of freckles across her cheek. She had the maddening urge to reach out and stroke the skin, to find out if it was really as soft as it appeared. Another thought crossed into Tara's mind, one which had been plaguing her since their previous discussion. Before she could stop herself, words formed on her lips and then vomited forth from her mouth, almost unbidden.
"Did you l-love her? Tara asked suddenly, gritting her teeth at her childhood stammer reappearing in her voice.
"Who?" Willow paused her ministrations and looked Tara in the eye with a confused expression.
"The girl you got kicked out of your foster family for, your foster-sister," Tara replied, wishing she had taken it back instead.
She watched the furrow's on Willow's brow deepen as she struggled with her reply. Willow let go of her hand, the little piece of bloodied gauze carefully held between the tips of her fingers.
It eventually tumbled out fairly quickly, as though she were reassuring Tara, "Why are you bringing that up? Tara, I...no, no I didn't love her."
"Why not, there was obviously something there, to risk being kicked out of your home for her," Tara couldn't stop herself as she continue to bait Willow, not even entirely sure as to why she was doing it.
"I don't see what this line of questioning has got to do with anything," Willow retorted, revealing her many hours spent reading legal texts, she continued in a taut voice, "But for your edification since you seem to want to know so badly, I was fifteen and exploring my sexuality. Especially in order to come to terms with something I had always suspected...that I was gay. And for god sake, I was fucking horny! You don't need to be in love to fuck someone, Tara, I would think at your age you would know that."
At that moment Tara was wondering where Willow had disappeared to and just who sat in front of her. However, as she watched tears moisten the corner of Willow's eyes she knew that the girl hadn't gone anywhere. A heavy sigh escaped Tara's lips as she fervently wished the topic had never been raised. It had however served to confirm her worst fears...and greatest hope.
"Why do you care?" Willow asked in a whisper, interrupting Tara's line of thought.
"I-I..." Tara began before forcing herself to stop and think about her words, and to avoid lurching into a sentence composed entirely of stutters.
I bit my lip...goddamn this girl! I instantly imagined that I had been transported back in time when I too was a teenager, an awkward, stuttering girl who was also trying to come to terms with who she was. Scratch that image, that's not me anymore. I haven't been that girl for a long time. I'm strong, independent and confident goddammit...then why do I feel like a little kid? She driving me nuts and I've finally come to the realisation that there's only one solution...
"Willow, I have to tell you something..."
Tara paused mid-sentence, wondering why the room was spinning all of a sudden. In her daze her mind flashed back to the fight in the alleyway and the pale thug stumbling and falling into her. She remembered the piercing pain at her side, and the knife clattering to the ground. With trembling hands she felt her side, another pain which almost drove her to pass out. When she looked at her fingers they were covered in blood. She looked up at Willow to see the redhead's face drained of colour. It was the last thing she saw as her vision collapsed into darkness and she slipped to the floor unconscious.
The priceless Ming vase flew across the room in its last moments as an intact object before hitting a doorframe and smashing into dozens of pieces with a sickening sound. One man who had ducked as it passed over his head turned and stared at it for a few moments before quickly returning his gaze to the woman standing in front of a huge, antique desk. She had been leaning back against it casually before her sudden and violent outburst, now she strode forward with a purpose and backhanded the unfortunate man across the face. His head snapped to one side but he quickly righted himself. He stood staunchly in his cop uniform despite being faced with a beast of savage beauty who circled him like a predator.
"Captain Amai, you promised me that this little problem would be over and done with in twenty-four hours. Well, your time is up and I don't see any sign of that blonde bitch surrendering herself on my doorstep...so where the fuck is she?" Glory Talbot demanded, spittle flying to land on Captain Amai's handsome, chiselled face.
The police officer met her gaze with apprehension now showing in his eyes and his voice reflected this, "W-we underestimated the Ladies of Old Town Madam Talbot."
Glory fumed and slapped him on the other cheek, she demanded, "what do you mean by underestimated?"
He gulped as he straightened himself once again, his cheeks reddening, "As a rule the Ladies keep to themselves, they staunchly protect their own...and only their own. We expected them to give Maclay up with the threat to their truce...we were...wrong and they've chosen to protect her."
"No shit," Glory grumbled, pacing backwards and forwards in front of Amai, "And those goons you sent after her were pathetic, an effort worthy of a two-bit drug dealer and I'm very, very disappointed."
Amai's eyes bulged at her tone, "We'll double our efforts! Give me another twenty-four hours and I'll drag that bitch in front of you personally!"
Glory glared directly at him, "Don't bother trying, it's more likely that Maclay will drag your lifeless body in front of me...hmm, tempting...but no. Get out of my sight before I get the urge to have you killed...and I'm very close to having that urge."
Amai hastily nodded his head, backing out of the room to keep his eyes on Glory. She watched him leave and heard the panicked footsteps as his pace quickened once he had safely escaped the room. A shape moved from the shadows behind Glory and a small smile crossed her face.
"Bleedin' pathetic that was," a man's voice with a heavy English accent sounded forth from the figure.
Glory turned to regard the dark-clothed man, his bleached blonde hair and pale skin standing out a stark contrast to the rest of him. Beneath his tapered black jeans and muscle shirt his body was whipcord thin and taut, ready for action. A lazy smile spread across his features as he waited his mistresses bidding.
"Spike, be a darling and sort out this little mess for me?" she asked pleadingly in a little girl voice.
His smile widened to show pearl white teeth and he replied simply, "My pleasure."
"First things first...would you mind seeing Captain Amai out of the building?"
Spike withdrew a wicked looking knife from a sheath at his belt and twirled it on the flat of his hand before deftly catching it once more. He walked past Glory and followed the unfortunate Captain from the room, the grin still fixed on his face.