Come into My Parlor
Summary: Before she leaves for the University of Sunnydale, Tara stops to see a fortune teller but learns more than she bargained for.
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.
"You're not supposed to be here," the woman said without turning around to see her.
Tara stopped dead still at the opening of the fortune teller's tent, a little freaked out by the sudden declaration. After all, she was right.
That night, Tara had climbed out the window of her second story bedroom, skidded silently over the roof shingles, and dropped to the ground. She wasn't worried about her father hearing her; he was so drunk he wouldn't hear anything for hours, and when he did, it would just make his hangover headache feel like his skull was breaking open. Donny was another matter, though. He had been awake, listening to music in his room, but she'd managed to avoid him. Sometimes she wished she could talk to him about what was going on, about their mother and what had happened to her. But he had his own conclusions drawn about why she had died.
"That's right," the woman said again. "He thinks the dark, tingly bits swallowed her up in the nighttime, biting like little rats at her insides until she was all hollowed away, and then…"
For the first time the woman turned to face Tara, who was frozen with shock, and her dark eyes sparkled in the dim candlelight of the old tent.
"…then she died, didn't she, pretty?"
"H-h-how do you know about that?" Tara asked, trying to look brave and cool, but knowing she just looked frightened.
Rumors had been flying through the high school for days about the carnival on the edge of town, especially about the fortune teller who made such eerie and accurate predictions about things. Tara was used to rumors, of course, but then sometimes rumors had the smallest grain of truth to them. Curiosity about someone else with the same abilities she had, that her mother had, won out. She had been forbidden by her father to go to the carnival, actually to go anywhere after she'd broken curfew for the third straight night, but this was the last night before the traveling group would pack up and leave town, and Tara needed to know. She needed to know so many things.
"I know a great many things about you," the woman said. "Come. Sit."
"I-I-I don't have m-much m-money," she stammered hesitantly as she sat across from the woman on the other side of the small, round table.
The woman made a sound half between a sigh and a hiss, then shrugged.
"Other payment will do, and that you have with you," she said, squinting at Tara appraisingly over her sharp nose, gazing without blinking for so long that it became uncomfortable.
"So, do you use c-crystal ball or something?" Tara asked tentatively to break the moment.
"Nasty gypsy things," the woman spat out. "No. No balls or tricks or silly smoke."
She took a worn set of tarot cards from beneath the table and shuffled them carefully on top of the worn tablecloth, but she didn't ask Tara to stop her shuffling or begin dealing them out. She just kept shuffling, looking at her in that unnerving, intense way.
"Aren't you going to d-d-do something other than sh-sh-shuffle?" Tara asked, sounding almost flippant, though the nervousness of her stutter damaged the effect.
The woman laughed, a much lower noise than Tara had thought it would be, and it made chills run down her spine.
"The cards aren't for you either," the woman said. "They comfort the fingertips is all. Little zings of energy flicking from the ends to the heart, opening and closing, seeing patterns in bits of things that are mostly hidden. You know, yeah?"
Tara nodded once. She knew.
"Yeah, you know," the woman went on. "Know all about the things they don't, the menfolk."
"What kinds of things?" Tara asked. She wasn't sure if she was asking to find out what the things were or just to see how much the other woman knew.
"Women know all sorts of things men never can," the woman said, her hands finally stopping in their ceaseless shuffling of cards. "Blood and moons and cats scratching inside the belly. That's common enough. But you know the other bits, the songs the stars play, and the clouds and sun, and yeah, yeah, you know the way the earth dances with the constellations, can feel it in your tummy, can't you?"
The woman's upper body arched violently with some of her words, sinuous as a snake and then sharp as a thrown knife from one of the other carnival acts. When her words stopped, she sat, not blinking, frozen, and Tara had the strangest feeling of what a mouse must experience when a cat is looking at it, deciding whether or not to pounce.
"Speak!" she yelled suddenly, clapping her hands together under Tara's chin with a sudden movement that made her jump, then adding in a soft whisper, her jaw angling this way and that as though to unheard music, "Tell the truth, lovey. Like pretty pearls on your tongue."
"Yes," Tara said, surprised she spoke without stammering. "Yes, I know."
The woman nodded exaggeratedly, her chin nearly touching her chest and then practically pointing to the ceiling on each movement. Her dark hair looked black in the dim candlelight, and her skin was whiter than cottonballs or snow. Tara thought it was like looking at an old silent movie from long ago.
"But… what does it mean?" she finally asked her.
"Mean?" the fortune teller asked.
"I mean, why can I do this? Why won't it… won't it stop?" she finished.
"So you want it to stop, do you?" the woman said, and her gaze went off into a corner somewhere. "I remember that girl. Little lost lamb in the woods, bleating a prayer to be made white as new-washed wool when she already was. It was the bleating made her bleed."
Tara frowned. "Um… I'm sorry?"
The woman shook her head as though to clear it, then looked at Tara again.
"It won't stop," she said slowly and clearly, "because that's how it is. It don't go away. Not even when you're dead."
"But I'm not trying to… I don't mean to be…," Tara said, the words coming out in a rush.
"You don't want to be an evil thing, do you, dearie?" the woman said, and her lips curled in a smile that was bright red, like a tint of color on an old photograph. She laughed her low laugh again, but more quietly this time. "You're not evil, dolly. Not even close to. You'd be like sugar on the tongue, white and pure and sweet like daisies."
An edge of the woman's tongue flickered across her lips, and Tara's eyes were drawn to it.
"Think I'm pretty?" the woman asked, half-closing her eyes in obvious satisfaction and vanity and smiling again. "Can tell, I can. You fancy the ladies."
"I…," Tara said, beginning to deny it but stopping cold at the woman's penetrating gaze. "Yes."
"Good girl," the woman said, lifting a hand and stroking along her cheek with bright red nails. "Truth is good, isn't it. Give me your palm, that's a girl."
Tara hastily wiped her palm on the leg of her jeans, then gave it to the woman's grasp. Almost at once, the other woman's eyes opened wide, and for the briefest moment Tara thought she saw gold glint in them.
"I could go to China again, and I'd still find the Slayer staring back at me," she murmured, shuddering. "Bloody girl's everywhere."
"Who?" Tara asked, completely confused.
"Not yet," the fortune teller told her. "Not for a bit yet. You'll leave in a year and go away, far, to where the sun sets, and you'll set there too, so you will."
"I don't understand," Tara said.
"I do," the woman answered as though that were enough.
"But… will I… can I ever," Tara began, but she felt a pointed fingernail under her chin, tipping her head so she had to look into the other woman's eyes.
"You want to know if you'll find love, don't you?" she asked. "It's what they all want to know."
Tara nodded silently, embarrassed.
"You will," she said firmly. "It shall be such a love: sweet as music on a spring day and sparkling as a crystal in sunlight. Love that is powerful. Love that shakes mountains down, that could lay waste to cities and burn the sun to a cinder. Madness you will know, and sadness, and fingers creeping into your brain to rearrange your reality and make the world what it is not. And pain, of course. That's life, that's death, that's what breath is."
"So…" Tara said uneasily, "that's a yes, then?"
The woman chuckled again, softly.
"Yeah. Yeah, you'll find your heart-mate," she said. "Pitter patter, then splatter, but yeah, you do."
Tara was a little comforted by the words of the strange woman, but a little uneasy as well.
"Is that, um, is that all you see?" Tara asked, wishing fervently that she could go now.
"Mostly," the woman said. "I still see one more thing, though."
Tara leaned a little closer.
"I see you paying me," the woman said with a slow smile.
"But I don't have…" Tara began to say, but the woman grabbed her roughly by the arm, seeming almost too strong for so small a frame, and hauled her to her feet.
"All kinds of ways to pay, my pretty little witch," she purred quietly, sniffing her hair. "All kinds of ways to play."
Tara was stunned by the feel of the woman's lips on hers, coaxing and claiming, but not unhappy about it. She gave in to the kiss, letting her tongue lap softly against the fortune teller's mouth and letting the touch of hands drifting over her body, even if those hands were dreadfully cold, make her feel alive again in a way she hadn't for months now, not since she'd been left all alone with Donny and her father and memories.
The other woman pulled away from her with a low hiss, chewing her own lip and screwing her eyes shut as though she were trying to control herself.
"It's… it's okay," Tara said softly self-consciously. "I mean, y-you don't have to stop if you don't want to. I… I like it."
"You have a place, and the world will whir out of its orbit if you don't put your puzzle piece in the proper spot," the woman said, her eyes still shut. "You have to go."
She opened her eyes, and Tara gaped in terror at the inhuman gold that confronted her, the teeth that no human could ever have.
"Now would be good," the woman said, the words slightly malformed around the strange fangs in her mouth.
Tara bolted out the door, not once looking back at the tent, wondering what the fortune teller could have meant by her strange words. She didn't see the form silhouetted against the tent opening, following her movements with eyes that were hungry, yet sad.
"Poor lambs," it said softly. "Always to the slaughter we go."
- fin -