Title: Of Staggering (if only to find our step)

Summary: Before the monsters in the alley, there was something much worse. Themselves.

Also, I just randomly picked the town Tara is from.

Rated: PG-13/T for Faith's language and subject content

Disclaimer: I do not own BtvS

Sunnydale, California; 1994

They had disappeared again. Something more important: work, drinks, books or poetry.

What was it about her that just couldn't keep people around? Was she really that repulsive? (Xander said it wasn't her fault).

No. No. It wasn't her. They were not fit to be parents; they were the ones not good enough. Not her.

But Xander…

He laughed at her jokes.

He played with her hair.

(He was there)

Her parents, in comparison, knew nothing at all.

Xander couldn't always be there, though. He couldn't chase away her monsters. He wasn't a superhero. He had his own ugly wimpy family to deal with anyway, so she didn't like to bother him unless it was some seriously bad mojo.

This stupid town was so full of seriously bad mojo. She didn't know why other people didn't notice. Maybe they were to busy actually being a family to notice. Her house seemed dark, even in the daytime. Everywhere was something dark. Xander couldn't make it go away, just made it slink in the shadows.

One day, the shadows would disappear. The city would burn.

[If her parents ever listened, they would brush it off as a child's fantasy.]

Boston, Massachusetts; 1994

She left home a week ago. Her mom's newest was sick of looking at her. It wasn't such a bummer, really. She was a big girl. She could fend for herself.

Except for one thing. She hadn't hit puberty yet, so she was still a little thing.

(Couldn't really defend herself)

It did have its advantages. She could get in a store in 15 seconds, tops. Honestly, it was better than her mom's place. Didn't have to worry about locking your door. Just carry a knife. Take the bare necessities.

That would be enough for now. Sure, she got scraped up a little. But it beats getting scraped up a lot, by people with names and faces you know. Plus, a few have sort of taken her under their wing. Protection, in exchange for other- she didn't like to think about it.

One day, she was going to be stronger then them, faster than them. One day, they would pay. At least, that was what she repeated to herself over and over again before closing her eyes and sleeping.

When she slept, she dreamt of something to call her own.

[Too f*****g bad when she woke up.]

London, England; 1994

He had had enough of this bloody confining city. Well, it really wasn't that horrible aside from the fact that there was nothing to do here. Plenty to do.

(nothing of importance)

It scared him, this feeling. He didn't have any fancy words to describe it, but he refused. He would not be a pompous and insensitive Watcher. He would not shake his slayer's hand and send her to her death, sitting in a stuffy office room and not caring a wick for the world.

No, he was committed to being different than the norm. He had to be. He just had to get out of this city, out of the council's fingers of royal snobbery.

Yes, the thought of having his own slayer to watch over- to take care of- frightened him to slithery bits. Surely, he who had once been called Ripper and was a royal mess of a man, surely he would mess this up too. But he couldn't stay here pouring his wasted talents over dreadful books. He was meant to be on the field.

[Maybe then, side by side with a girl who was also a slayer, he wouldn't be so useless.]

Sunnydale, California; 1994

When he grew up, he was going to be a hero. Not the kind that wore stupid capes and couldn't even be a real person. He would be a hero- that could chase away the nightmares and the droopy frowns, who saves and protects and hugs and laughs.

(at that empty feeling somewhere deep inside that he couldn't see)

Xander was half there already. It was about telling the truth, and about saying silly things in order to break the ice and lighten the mood. He might not be as smart as Willow, but he knew how to turn her sad faces into happy ones. He knew how to make people happy.

What he couldn't really say out loud though, was the fact that it would never be enough.

Heroes don't get any vacation time or sick leave- and if they take it, they aren't really heroes. Maybe he doesn't so much want to be a hero, as he wants to be man (maybe even a gentleman, without the manners and stupid rules) in a way his father never was.

He would show him. He would show everybody who ever doubted.

[One day, he would be someone.]

Tonopah, Nevada, 1994

She wished she could say there was a time where it wasn't like this. But that would be lying, and Tara did not lie. That was about the only thing she had going for her.

She felt like a freshwater dolphin in a saltwater world. She couldn't help but notice all around people wearing smiling faces and families holding hands and loving each other. She couldn't help but stare incessently. She didn't fit in anywhere.

All frowns and jagged edges and bruises, she was. Stuttering to their laughter, quivering to their grace.

(Something in her was wrong)

Maybe there was a time, before she was born, before this god-awful town where her family was happy. But now, her mom was sick, her brother was angry, and her dad was scared.

(Or scary, rather)

It was all hell, but at the same time, there was something there. Something beautiful. A chance, a flicker of a chance, that she would get out of this crippling, stifling home and make something of herself.

In the moments when she was by her lonesome, no one watching her, she imagined what it would be like.

[To have a family to call her own]