Deviation in style for this chapter, we start with a little flashback. Then our favourite witch kicks some ass.

We all have those little moments in our lives, the tiny instances that make us question our fundamental existentiality. Little moments that make you wonder if you actually have a purpose on the Earth, if there's any real reason for you to exist at all. If you find that reason, you start to wonder why that particular thing is your purpose. You wonder if you were ever meant to be on the planet in the first place. By the time she was twenty-two, Tara Maclay had experienced more of those moments than anyone else. The first of them came to her at a very young age, the morning of her sixth birthday. She awoke to the yummy smell of pancakes and her mother's clear, lyrical voice floating through the hallways as she hummed 'You Are My Sunshine'. Tara had lain in her bed for a few minutes, just enjoying the springtime warmth and the comfort she felt at knowing her mother was just down the hallway, making her birthday breakfast. After all, turning six was a pretty big deal. She'd waited a whole year for this birthday.

"Tara!" Her mother called in a singsong voice. "Are you up yet?"

"I'm c-coming mama!" Tara replied, hurriedly swinging out of bed. She padded to her door, but the handle wouldn't budge. She frowned, rattling it harder. A piece of paper slid through the crack, and she picked it up, reading it slowly. Suck it, loser! You said you wanted craft stuff for you birthday, well I got you some Krazy Glue! Tara balled the note up in her fist, feeling it turn to ashes as angry tears stung her eyes. Big brothers were supposed to be nice and protect you and play games. Donny was never like that. He was the kind of brother that let her kitten out at night, to watch an owl swoop down and take it away. The mean kind of brother that Krazy Glued her door handle so it wouldn't turn. And her father never did anything to stop Donny. Not even when he hurt Tara. And he did that a lot. There were still bruises on her inner thighs from the last time Donny had hurt her.

"Tara?" Her mother called again, voice worried. Tara's throat was so full of tears that no words would come out, just a strangled, pathetic little yelp. But she hated it when mama saw her sad, or when she saw the things Donny did to her. She didn't like it when mama got that faraway look in her eyes, that look that made it seem like she was guilty that Tara was ever born. Tara quickly pressed her hand against the door handle, connecting herself the fuzzy warm energy around her. It was getting easier to do that every day. It felt wonderful. Knowing that all the power of the Earth was yours. She let the warm-fuzzies flow through her and out her fingertips. She felt the glue melting. Tara pulled her hand away, all sticky, and wiped it on her pajama bottoms before gingerly opening the door. Just as her father was walking down the hall. He smiled at her, picking up her small frame and scooting her onto his hip. She hung her head forward, immediately hiding behind her shield of pretty blonde hair.

"It's your birthday Tara," he said plainly, "shouldn't you be smiling?"

"Y-y-yes s-s-s-s-sir," Tara blushed, pushing her face into a forced smile.

"That's better. Can't have a girl not smiling now," he placed her down onto her feet. "But honestly, Tara do you have to keep up with that stupid stutter? You're six years old for God's sake." He roughly clipped her over the back of her head with his hand, making her wince. "It's time to grow up."

Why had she wanted to be six again? She wondered forlornly, gazing at the ground. Sometimes, on mornings like these, she wondered why she wanted to exist at all.

"Derek," her mother's voice made her look up hopefully, "leave her alone, it's her birthday for goodness sake."

"Are you telling me what to do?" Her father's voice dropped an octave. It was that low growl that made Tara think of a bear, or the monster under her bed.

"I'm telling you how to be a decent person," her mother hissed, standing taller and looking her father in the eyes. Tara shrunk back, pressing herself against the wall and letting her hair fall in front of her face. If she tried hard enough, maybe she'd become invisible.

"I am a decent person, Trisha!" He retorted, advancing on her, though she didn't back down. "I've given you a beautiful house, a steady income, a wonderful son and the daughter you wanted so badly! You don't have to do anything but keep house, Trisha. You should be grateful."

"You bastard," she intoned malevolently, "you don't think I work hard? You don't think I live with the shadow of the things you say to me, to Tara, hanging over my head?"

"I know what you are, Trisha!" He yelled, "and don't you dare forget it! Without me you'd be nothing but a filthy demon."

Tara's eyes widened beneath the curtain of her bangs. A demon? What?

Her father pulled his hand back, then snapped in forward, slapping her mother's cheek with a horrific crack. Tara squeaked, pressing herself further against the wall. Did they all hate her? Was there anyone in this house who truly loved Tara? Her father hit her, hit her mother. Donny hurt her in places she didn't know could hurt. Was this what turning six was? Realising that everything you thought wasn't so bad, actually was? Was turning six realising that the in the world, such a scary place, you couldn't for the life of you figure out where you fit into it? Her mother's eyes filled with tears and her cheek was bright red, but still she raised her head, pinning her husband with a menacing gaze,

"Derek I have let you slap me around for the last twelve years of my life, but don't you dare EVER hit me again in front of Tara."

Her mother grabbed her coat and stormed out of the house, hiding her tears behind long blonde hair. Her father tightened his lips, turning and heading back to his study, fuming with anger. And Tara sank to the ground in the hall, quivering with fear, as the smell of burning pancakes permeated every corner of the house.

But at the age of 22, Tara Maclay finally stopped questioning why she existed. Why? Because in one single moment, she realised that she was important. That she really could do it.

Of course you can, Willow's whispered voice resounded in her head, and every other sound in the room faded away. Tara's heart swelled. She wasn't on her own. She never was. He baby was always with her. It was as if the chaos before her decelerated to slow motion. A calm sense of clarity flowed over Tara, and in an instant, every fibre of her being sizzled with the energy of The Earth, flowing through her as if they were one being as Willow's gentle words stilled her pounding blood. She felt more power than she'd ever experienced in her life well up into her body, more than when she'd harnessed the black magic, more than when she'd cast with the priestesses in London, in fact the only time she'd ever before felt this was when she cast with her mother. This kind of power would radiate off of her , and Tara would watch in awe. Now she felt it in herself… she wasn't just channelling the energy of the Earth. She was the energy of the Earth.

The magic swelled within her, and moments later burst from her fingertips, filling the room with faux-sunlight. Many of the girls, who hadn't seen Tara's arrival, screamed. All of the vampires, uber or just First-addled friends, began to smoke. Tara let the sunlight fade.

"Kennedy!" she yelled, "get the girls out, get them somewhere safe."

"But Tara…"

"K-k-k-Kennedy, just do what I say!" The authoritarian voice was still kinda new. She dropped her tone slightly, trying to be more gentle with Kennedy… after all, she really was just a girl. A scared, young girl. "Kennedy, you're the only one strong enough to protect them. Please."

The Latina girl gave a brief nod, before slamming a stake deeply into an uber's chest and running for the door.

Willow lay curled and shuddering on the bedroom floor. Oh good lord, what was happening? How had The First done this to them? Was it really that easy for it to completely incapacitate every member of the Scooby Gang? To leave them in such a state that they turned on each other? Kinda hellish high school nightmare trip meets Spike's stint at implementing the 'Yoko Factor'. But she was all alone. In the massive mansion. No Tara. No coven…no Alena. No Alena. No Alena, because Willow had killed her. Willow's body had taken yet another life, while her mind sat and screamed in its First-induced prison. And now Tara was in Sunnydale, fighting for her friend's lives… while Willow lay here and did absolutely nothing to help her. What use was Willow? The magic junkie. The mind-raper. The evil-fucking-mega-witch. The witch who was so hooked on the dark powers that the little taste that The First offered her, had left her a shuddering mess, aching for just a little more of that delicious energy. She thought she'd gotten further. She thought she'd moved beyond this…to a point where Tara could trust her again, and they could be happy. Was it really less than a month ago that Tara came back? Already so much had changed. Things had gone from beautifully, blissfully happy, to crushingly painful, to the point where Willow had begged for death…things had picked up, for a while, she'd even thought that she could truly rebuild a relationship with Tara…then one little trick from The First and Willow was back, flat on her ass at square one.

Sweetie, if it takes ten squares or fifty squares or a hundred squares, heck a bajillion squares, to get to where you're okay… I'll be there. The whole way. Tara's voice was warm and comforting inside her aching head…and Willow realised something. Tara was as much her drug as magic was… except Tara was the drug that eased the ache of her withdrawals, to the point where Willow knew, with stunning, crystal-like clarity, that Tara was the only thing that could ever truly bring her, safe and sound, to the square number bajillion and one.

Buffy looked weird in vamp-face. That was Tara's first though before stars burst in front of her eyes and her skull slammed into the ground. Oz gave a triumphant howl, ripping off an uber's head in celebration. Tara sat up groggily, trying to regain her bearings before righting herself. She dropped un uber-vamp with a fireball, then ducked the advances of another… the Scoobies were simply fighting each other again. Apparently Tara was a lost cause, and Buffy obviously found it more interesting to try and sink her new fangs into a glow-y green thing that could only be Dawnie. Why am I doing this? Buffy screamed in her head. What is wrong with me? Shouldn't I be strong enough to stop doing this? But still her fangs were bared, still blood dripped from her mouth. I'm the Slayer…strongest, fastest – hello, hot chick with superpowers here! – yet nada! If there's one thing I should be able to fight, it's my own body… It's mine. And I should have control over it. Not some stupid First thingy. And poor Tara…she thought, a menacing growl ripping from her throat and making the witch's blue eyes widen in…fear. God. She so hated seeing Tara look that afraid of her. Poor Tara fighting a battle that I should be fighting. And poor Tara for whatever had happened to Willow…and-

"Why not me?" Tara screamed in annoyance. "Why didn't you make me succumb to my prickly little fears too, huh?"

"Why, little lady, I woulda thought that woulda been pretty darn obvious. Guess they just don't breen 'em smart like they used 'ta." The slow, near-jovial southern drawl was possibly the most terrifying thing Tara had ever heard. "Hi pretty girl. The name's Caleb."

Uh… uh oh? Reviews please please please! Especially about the flashback at the beginning… that'll have big-time significance later 3