DISCLAIMER: BtVS and all related characters etc are owned by Joss Whedon et al.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Another look at Tara's past. If you like this one, please also check out NOTIONS and TARA INSIDE. Cyber cookies to everyone who gets the major canon reference of the story.

DADDY'S PRINCESS

"Well if Bethie ain't just the most precious Fourth Princess we ever did have. Don't your cousin look pretty, honey?"

Tara stared back at her aunt. She wanted to say that yes, Bethie looked pretty, but did Bethie have to take necklace that Momma had bought Tara just to wear for Fourth of July? Five year old Tara wanted to say that of course Bethie was pretty because Bethie was always pretty. Bethie was Daddy's princess, because Bethie didn't have a daddy, and she was just the darnedest thing because she thought Daddy was the strongest, best man in the whole wide world.

Daddy never took a belt to Bethie.

Tara wanted to answer her aunt, but no words would come.

"I asked you a question, girl," Bethie's mother said, hands on her hips. "Cat got your tongue?"

Tara swallowed hard and looked away. Cat got your tongue? That's what her daddy said and that's what Donny said and that's what Bethie said and that's what everybody except for Momma said.

Cat got your tongue, Tara? Keep your tongue behind your teeth, Tara. You watch your mouth, girl. Don't go sassing me. Don't go sassing your brother. Cat got your tongue, Tara?

Bethie, a tiara on her head, beamed at her family from up on stage and waved. "Do you see me, Donny? Do you see me, everybody?"

Children were seen and not heard. Tara was neither. Bethie was both, but for Bethie, it was okay. Bethie was special. Bethie was Daddy's pretty girl, and she was wearing Tara's necklace, only it wasn't Tara's anymore. It was Bethie's.

Like Daddy.

"Bethie's a good princess," Tara answered her aunt softly. Bethie was born to be a princess. Daddy's princess.

No one noticed when Tara wandered off to sit by herself under the big oak tree. She sat there by herself as darkness fell, and when the fireworks started, she stared silently up at the sky as the sounds of her family floated back towards her.

"BOOM!" Donny echoed the fireworks. "You're dead!" Donny screeched to invisible enemies. He stomped the flowers under his feet, and Tara winced. She looked at the tree next to her and touched it gently with her hand as she watched her older brother stomp the dandelions into the ground each time a firework sounded.

"Don't worry, tree," Tara whispered. "I won't let him hurt you." For a moment, she saw something in the tree, something beautiful, something pure. Something magical.

A ways off, Bethie clamored into Daddy's lap, and Daddy hoisted her up onto his shoulders. The fireworks exploded overhead, lighting Bethie's face as she giggled delightedly, every inch the princess. Daddy's princess.

Under the tree, by herself, Tara sat in shadow, no light on her face.

"I won't let anyone hurt you," she whispered fiercely to the tree.

Bethie screamed with delight on Daddy's shoulders, and Tara leaned her head against the tree, watching the fireworks and her family from the shadows, where she belonged.

Fin

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