Title: Tara's Richie-Shaped-Friend
Author: Kayla Shay
Holiday FFA: #37 Tara and Richie Ryan
Disclaimer: I do not own Tara or Richie or the worlds in which they reside
Rating: PG

Christmas Eve 2001
Richie gave his bike one last kick as he walked away from the automotive shop. The problem was an easy fix but for some reason, the shop owner closed up an hour before sunset. So there would be no working bike until the morning.
Now he was stuck in some dead end town in Southern California on Christmas Eve with nothing to do and it seemed that everything else closed up before sunset. He had planned on making it back up the coast to spend Christmas day with Joe, Duncan and whoever else showed up. Anne would probably stop by with the baby and he could pretend, at least for little while, that all of them were a normal family gathering for the holidays, something he never had before. If Amanda showed up, she could be that crazy aunt that every family seemed to have.
But normal was not for Richie, or for any of his make-shift family. He would never know normal for as long as he lived, which had the possibility of being a long time.
Checking that his sword was secured and that he had everything off his bike he needed, he began to walk the streets. People were hurrying about their business, almost too fast. This town just seemed to have an undercurrent of fear about the night. Perhaps there was some punk kids that caused trouble, small towns can breed those.
Pressing on, he found a small coffee shop that was still open. He paused briefly to stare at the ornate cross that served as the doorknob for the coffee shop door. This town truly was strange. He headed on in looking for an empty seat in the surprisingly filled shop.

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Just when he thought he was out of luck, he spotted a girl close to his age sitting alone at a corner table. The empty seat at her table was the only one left so he headed over feeling that perhaps he wouldn't have to have his drink alone.Tara McClay sat at the table in a daze. She had actually left Willow. Her heart had not stopped racing since she left. What was she going to do? She couldn't go back to her family, they were as evil as some of the things she had seen with Willow and her friends. She didn't have the funding to live on her own and she only had enough savings for at least one more night in the hotel.
Tara had thought about talking to Xander and Anya or even Giles, but they were Willow's friends, not hers. She had just been the girlfriend, the one included on things because she was with Willow. The only one she was truly friends with was Dawn. They were similar in how they were included and Tara would miss her the most. She also knew that Dawn would be left alone without her there, but there was nothing she could do to fix that.
Her fingers trembled as she traced rune symbols over and over on a napkin: the symbols for peace and healing. They had yet to work though and she was beginning to think that they may never work.
Then she heard a voice speaking to her. She shyly peaked through her hair to look at the stranger.

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"Excuse me," Richie said in way that was hopefully inviting, "I was wondering if I could share your table here?" He gestured around the shop as she looked up him, "all the other spots seem full."
Tara quickly looked around and then rested her look back on the young man. Something seemed to surround him almost like his aura was calling out to her. "Sure," she took a breath to help her stutter, "I, I don't mind."
Richie looked the shy girl over. He had only seen people like her back when he was bouncing from one orphanage to another. They were the ones that didn't last unless someone intervened, and intervention rarely happened for them. He decided he wanted to see her smile, because she looked like she would have a pretty one.
"I'm Richie Ryan," he held his hand out to her which she gingerly took.
"T..Ta..Tara," she wanted to crawl under the table. She had used every ounce of will that she had gained over the last two years to leave Willow and now she had no reserves left.
"So Tara, what's a gorgeous girl like you doing all alone at Christmas Eve?" Richie faltered when he saw the look on her face, why did he always have to open his mouth before he checked with his brain.
Tara's heart lurched until she felt a slight burning sensation on her hand that was resting over the runes. Perhaps her healer was here, it was the same feeling that she got from his powerful aura. It was enough to refill some that she had lost from leaving Willow and she looked back at her table mate.
"I.. I just left someone the other day. Sh..ee was hurting herself and all of us and I.. I.. needed her to understand." She paused trying to gage what the stranger was thinking. Here she was spilling her heart out to a guy she just met. But for some reason he comforted her soul and for brief moment she though he reminded her of Xander.
Richie felt the urge to scoop the girl up in his arms and hold until all the hurt went away. He had just met her, but something about her made his spine tingle. "I'm sorry that I upset you, I sometimes speak without my mind knowing it, it's a bad habit I'm working on," he paused to consider what he said next. This girl was an emotional wreck and she didn't need him screwing her up more. Duncan was so much better at this kind of thing.
"You know, it sounds like you did the right thing. I mean, maybe she will realize what she was losing when you're gone. Sometimes people just need a break from one another to work everything out. I did it once, a couple of years ago." He sat in reflection about the time he had taken off after his first quickening. He had grown from the experiences and perhaps she would and possibly her girlfriend too.
"Will.. Willow has friends around her to help. Sh..She became addicted to ma..," she paused realizing this man probably didn't know about the darker side of life, "to a wilder life..style."
Richie had caught her pause on the addiction issue and just assumed it was some drug, probably marijuana. The poor girl. Then he also caught on something else she said. "So, Willow has friends to help her out, what about you? Do you have someone you could go to?"
Tara gripped the napkin a little tighter under her hand but the symbols were still burning brightly. Perhaps he was the answer she needed to get away for awhile, not forever, just for awhile.
"No, Willow's friends became my friends, but they kn..ew her longer and I was just included because of Willow." She stopped as she looked at the waitress that had stopped at their table.
"Excuse me, Tara, I just wanted to let you both know that we were closing in about 5 minutes. Oh, be careful heading home," she said with a knowing look and continued on to the next table.
Richie looked around as people hurried out of the shop and on to whatever else they had to do in their lives. He looked back at Tara who had started to stand.
"I.. I didn't realize it had gotten so late. I really need to head back to the motel." Tara had kept the still burning napkin in her hand almost like a life line.
Richie thought quickly, it may scare the girl away, but he didn't have his bike and he didn't know his way around this strange town so he took the chance. "Hey, could you actually point me in the direction of a place for the night. I had to leave my bike at the autoshop around the corner until morning and need to get a room."
Tara looked nervously around, if she gave him a lift the motel, it would be okay right? She really hated making these decisions, especially when the other person involved could be some sort of demon or vampire. Although she didn't think he was a vampire, the last bit of evening sun had been shining through the window on him the entire time.
"I.. I could give you a lift down the road to the motel I'm at. It's not the best in the world but it's alright for one night."
Richie noticed that her stuttered was slowly disappearing, perhaps she was warming up to him. "That would be great, lead the way."
As they got outside, Richie noticed that last bit of sun had faded and the streets were barren. It was like those old time towns that they say would fold up the streets at night. "So, how come everyone in Sunnydale seems to disappear as soon as the sun sets?"
Tara looked at him with eyes that had seen too much. Her eyes almost reminded him of the looks Duncan got when thinking about something long ago, or better yet, the looks in Joe's eyes when his thoughts return to Vietnam. It was a look that scared him because he knew he had that look too.
"Th..there are some gangs that cause lots of problems around here." She stopped making it seem like that was all he needed to know and he decided not to press the issue. Maybe he would look into this strange town later, preferably after he was out of it.
Richie climbed in the passenger seat of her old, beat up car. The car door looked like someone had clawed the paint right off the side. It gave him another urge to hold this girl close and protect her.
Both were lost in thought as they passed through the town. Thinking about their respective lives and the fact that they were with a complete stranger on the one night of the year that they should be with family. Sometimes the fates did some work to get people together, and they were working overtime with Richie and Tara.

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Richie stared at the clerk in disbelief and asked one more time, "You're sure you don't have any rooms left?" The clerk just shook his head and returned to his prime-time movie on the little black and white TV set.
He walked back towards the other end of the lobby where Tara was standing. "They don't have anything, are they anymore motels around?" He looked hopeful.
"No. Not nearby anyway. The next one is about 20 minutes or so from here." She looked downcast and her newfound friend's misfortune.
"Man, I was just trying to make it up to Mac's for Christmas. See some friends, hang out, have a few drinks and enjoy myself, but by bike had to go and leave me stranded." Richie let his rant die and sat on the chair to run has hands through his unruly hair.
Tara ran her hand over the runes and they were still singing to her and she knew without any hesitation what she needed to do. "You could stay at my room tonight. I have a double." She didn't stutter, she didn't look away, she just finally felt like everything would be okay and that she would be back with Willow sometime in the future. It would all work out.
Richie looked into her eyes and knew there would be no turning down her offer. He knew it had taken a lot for her to be able to make the offer and he wouldn't hurt her new found confidence.
"If you really don't mind, that would be great. Lead on fair lady, lead on." Richie was rewarded with a smile and Tara grabbed his hand and led him up to the room. The two stayed up well into the morning eating pizza, drinking soda and swapping stories about their childhood and lives. They each had the best Christmas Eve ever and it had been in the company of a complete stranger.
As Tara waved goodbye to Richie the next afternoon, she vowed to help Willow become the woman she fell in love with, just as Richie vowed to keep tabs on Miss Tara McClay, the woman that had somehow worked her way into his heart as the sister he never had.