Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy

AN: This is a story I've had planned for ages and just haven't got around to writing yet. And I warn you, it's a little darker than my other stuff Enjoy!

Seventeen year-old Tara Maclay watched silently as her Mother's coffin was lowered into the ground. She maintained her composure as dirt was shoveled over it, swallowing the lump that had formed in her throat. If she cried now, her Father would punish her later for what he would perceive as her making a scene. She glanced over at him as he looked on, face emotionless, with Tara's older brother Donny and younger cousin Beth standing on either side of him. Tara knew that her Mother's death was more an annoying inconvenience to her Father, in contrast to the deep personal loss that it was for her. Who would cook? Who would do the housekeeping? Of course, Tara knew exactly who would have to do these things.

"Me, Myself, and I" she thought to herself, sighing as she remembered her Father's words when they had first discovered that her Mother wasn't going to pull through. "You'll be the woman of the house now girl, it's your duty to take care of the housework and put dinner on the table for your brother and I." Lucky for him then that he'd had the daughter he never wanted, because God forbid if he should have to do the housework himself.

When the Maclays arrived home after the funeral, Tara cooked a meal for her Father and brother, just as she was expected to do. Her Father had been extra irritable recently, and defying him, which she didn't plan to do, would not be a wise course of action. She made nothinng for herself, as the thought of eating right now repulsed her. After the others had finished, she washed their dishes, and then, with her Father's permission, headed off to bed. After Tara had changed and lay down on her bed, she flinched at the feel of something hard beneath her pillow, and pulled the offending object out. It was a book of magic spells. Tara's Mother had been a member of the wiccan faith, and when Tara turned thirteen she had begun teaching her the craft. Her Father didn't like this, so the lessons had had to be kept secret. Tara had taken to the magic well though, and before her death her Mother had made a point of telling her how proud she was of the skilled witch she was becoming. Tara hugged the book to her chest, finally allowing her tears to fall.

The following day, Tara floated through school on auto-pilot, paying attention to no-one, and no-one paying attention to her. That was until around lunchtime, when a sudden voice cut into her thoughts.

"Tara?" The sound made her jump, but Tara quickly relaxed when she saw the identity of the speaker.

"H-hi, Willow." Willow Rosenberg was a girl from the year below who had been skipped into Tara's IT class because of her high aptitude with computers. Willow was advanced in other areas too, and was therefore deemed a nerd and a teacher's pet, making her unpopular among most of her peers. Tara had never really considered her as either of these things, and thought she was sweet, and kind, and a lot of other things that were lacking in most girls her age. She was also quite pretty.. not that Tara really noticed that sort of thing. What she did notice at that moment was the younger girl's emerald green eyes filled with concern. It took her another moment to realise that this concern was for her. Willow was about the only person in school who acknowledged her existence, even the teachers didn't pay much attention to 'that quiet girl with the stutter.'

"I heard about your Mom" said Willow sympathetically. "I'm so sorry."

"I-it's okay" Tara stuttered. ""We kn-knew it was c-coming, and she was in the h-hospital for a l-long time before it h-happened, so I've already g-gotten used to n-not h-having her around." This wasn't completeley true. While Tara had become accustomed to not having her Mother around at home, the fact that she was now really gone was still tough for her to deal with.

"Well, if you ever need to talk, I'm here, okay?" said Willow, still a little worried.

"Okay" Tara nodded, giving an increasingly rare display of her lopsided smile.

"And hey, if you need to just take your mind off things, maybe you can come over to my house one day and we'll bake brownies and watch movies and.."

"I d-don't think so" Tara stuttered.

"Oh.." said Willow, face falling.

"It's n-not that I d-dont w-want to" Tara added quickly. And she meant it, but her Father would never allow it. "I just r-really need to b-be with my D-dad and my b-brother right now, you know?"

"Yeah, I understand" Willow smiled, laying a hand on Tara's shoulder. "But if you ever change your mind, the offer's always open."

"Okay. Th-thanks, Willow."

"No problem" she replied, rushing off down the hall towards a blonde haired girl gesturing for her to hurry up and a dark haired boy who looked in no hurry at all. These were Willow's two best friends, Buffy Summers and Xander Harris. Tara had never spoken to either of them much, but they seemed nice enough. "See you in class tomorrow?"

"Yeah" Tara nodded, smiling again. "S-see you, Willow." She turned and headed off herself, dropping her books as she bumped right into the school's resident bad girl, Faith Lehane. Although, Tara thought the girl had a worse reputation than her behaviour truly warranted. Most of the teachers thought badly of her, and she did have a habit of picking fights, but what most failed to notice was that these fights were, more often than not, with bullies picking on people younger or smaller than them. It also had to be noted that, for reasons nobody really understood, her behaviour had improved drastically over recent months, and she seemed to be making a real effort to keep herself in check. The most she seemed to get into now was her frequent verbal sparring matches with Buffy. Buffy and Faith's official position was that they couldn't stand each other, but Tara got the filling that this wasn't the truth by a longshot.. not that she really noticed that type of thing either. The kids in the surrounding area tensed, half expecting Faith to haul off and punch Tara in the face. Instead, the brunette bent down, gathered the dropped books and handed them back to Tara. Then, as if suddenly rememberinng that she had a reputation to keep, said:

"Watch where you're goin' next time, okay Blondie?"

"O-okay" Tara stuttered, rushing off to class.

The second Tara arrived home that afternoon, she knew she was in trouble. Her Father was sitting in his favourite armchair, holding her Mother's magic book.

"What's this?" he asked her coldly, holding it up.

"M-mom's book" Tara stuttered. "I w-wanted to k-keep it to r-remember her.."

"The hell you do!" Her Father shouted angrily. "It's a book of witchcraft! You've been practicing these evil, unattural acts in my house, haven't you girl? Haven't you!"

"It's n-not evil.."

"This is filth!" He waved the book in Tara's face. "This is trash!" He opened the book and attempted to tear out its pages.

"Stop!" Tara cried. She made a grab for the book, and her Father lashed out.

Tara examined the angry bruise forming across one side of her face. She needed to learn some respect, her Father said. She needed to know her place, her Father said. She would no longer be going to school, her Father said. She would not leave the house unless he said so, her Father said. But he was wrong. Tara rushed into her room and grabbed a bag, packing it with a pillow, blanket, change of clothes, and other essentials. She crept down stairs, careful not to wake her father or Donny as she passed their rooms, and retrieved her Mother's book, complete with a few torn out pages, tucking them inside the cover before running back upstairs and placing it in the bag. Her Mother had told Tara that she wanted a better life for her than what she had had. She had told her that if her Father ever laid a hand on her, she was to run. He had, so Tara was running.