This is set in my non-canon, but canon-esque series following Uncontrollable and Unmentionable. If you haven't read those first, please do, or this won't read nearly as well or make much sense. Unknown begins a few weeks after the end of Unmentionable, around the beginning of season five.
Dedicated to: Alexiarrose, ginar369, omslagspapper, Dlillith21, Sirius120, Jackiemack916, Jewel74, Illusera, cavemenftw, rosalea12, kse93, kerry220, jhiz, Alottalove, CailinRua, skeezixx, Juggling, Pickl3lily, Annomonk. Thank you, my dears! You are my inspirations, I couldn't do this without you!
Direct Quotes are obviously not mine, but belong to the fabulously talented and creative people who wrote them. In this case, some of season five's dialogue will be used.
Disclaimer: Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
"How in the world are we moving through this much inventory?" Joyce sat down in the tiny back office with her ledger across her lap.
"Ah. That would be the semi-unholy trio." Xander walked into the office in time to hear her mumble. "We need more twine. Are we out of twine?"
"Wouldn't surprise me." Joyce flipped a few pages back, then ahead. "Not with as much as we've sold lately."
"I'll tell Anya to order some. We're running out of brown packing paper and-oh there it is." Xander snatched the twine off of a shelf and hustled back out.
"What's the unholy trio?" Joyce called after him, a faint frown on her face as she realized what he'd said.
Xander came back in, minus the string. "Semi-unholy. Tara, Spike, and Anya. The gentle, nurturing, aura-reading art expert, the vampire who can size people up and fast talk them into staying in the store, and our own little ex-demon, current capitalist who closes the three of them are pretty impressive together."
Joyce laughed, "Are you serious?"
"They don't do it when you're here, 'cause it's your gallery. But when you're not here, and all three of them get going- yeah. It's entertaining."
"Rupert's been very good about going to auctions, too."
"Curator dude. He has the eye." Xander agreed.
"You've all been very helpful." Joyce smiled and closed the ledger as the numbers and letters swam. She leaned back and closed her eyes as well. "Anya and Rupert have everything under control for now?"
"Yeah, they're good." Xander looked at her nervously. Pale. She was wearing a cream colored sweater as well. Pale. Closed eyes. Thinner face. In white. Ring any nasty little dream bells? Xander coughed and became brisk, yet inarticulate. "Hey, uh... Tara and Willow are coming over this afternoon, and Buffy is supposed to stop in. You look tired. Not like- not good, tired, just tired. I could take you home?"
Joyce opened one eye. "Do I look that bad? Am I going to scare off the customers?"
"No!" Just me.
"I have to stay. This is my gallery, and I worked too hard to build it up after we moved here." Joyce said grimly, forcing herself to her feet. "Which I suppose means I have to get back out and-"
"No, no, no." Xander gently pushed her back into her seat. "See, Anya's rockin' the register. Giles' British politeness is balancing out her rabid salesmanship. But you- you are the only one who understands what all these- these things are." Xander gestured to the stacks of paper and the ledgers.
Joyce looked up at him with a rueful smile. "They call them bills, invoices, and taxes."
"See? You need to be here. Sitting. Off your feet. Dealing with the big scary papers. I'll get you tea. Should I get you tea?"
"No, just go." She nudged him away with a stack of bills. "I think I can survive until closing without you being my nurse." Joyce gave him a final smile as he left. "You're mother is very lucky to have a sweet son like you."
Xander blushed. His mother hadn't paid any attention to him in the last three months except to ask him to pass a corkscrew and open the package of swizzle sticks. "Nah. I mean, yeah. I mean, some people just bring it out in me and I- need to go. Go now. To find the order forms for string." He stumbled backwards from the room.
"Sweet. But maybe a little off sometimes." Joyce chuckled to herself.
"Okay, you're slacking off. This tiny locally owned and operated business needs all the magical help it can get." Anya hissed emphatically at Tara as a third customer entered.
"Wh-what? Slacking?" Tara knocked over a small stack of flyers and hastily set them upright. "Oh, sorry!"
"I'm not worried about the papers- I know a demon who works at the Qwik Copy, and he let me have them for half price." Anya stacked the flyers back in order. "I meant the complete lack of reading people. Auras are your thing. I handle money, Spike sizes up the outside, you size up the inside. Now- go. Look at auras." Anya tried to hustle her out into the center of the gallery. Tara just looked distracted. Anya's hands fell to her sides. "Tara?"
"I can't. I'm sorry. I can't see anything t-today." Tara put down the remaining papers and turned from Anya. "Excuse me." She glided off, eyes unfocused and vague.
"Well... do they make Visine for the inner eye?" Anya called after her. From across the shop, Willow abruptly stopped showing two freshmen through the stack of prints and stared after Tara's retreating form.
"Tara?" Willow began to follow her.
"Wait- are these $29.99 each or is the second one half off?" The freshmen held out a print in front of Willow, halting her.
"Uh- whatever it says on the back." Willow mumbled, and earned a glare from Anya. "Excuse me. That lady over there can help you." Willow pointed to Anya and sidestepped them.
"We're here. Isn't this the place where all the cool kids hang out?" Buffy entered the gallery, Spike close behind her, just in time to hear the back door slam.
"Apparently not as cool as we thought." Spike stopped as Buffy paused just inside the threshold.
"I- I just need- a minute." Tara didn't turn to look at Willow. She stood outside the back door, leaning heavily on the brick wall, breathing unevenly.
"Did your - did someone call you?" Willow stood behind her, arms hugging her ribcage tightly, like she wanted to hug the woman in front of her.
"No... but they will." Tara looked down the alleyway. Fall nights began early. The sun sank between buildings though it was only a little past four.
"We don't have to go back there tonight. I didn't ask anyone, b-but I know we could spend the night someplace besides our room if you're afraid they're waiting around."
"They're waiting around. But they're not going to m-make me scared to go home." Tara's eyes connected with Willow's briefly. "Home with you."
Willow flew over to her and wrapped Tara in her arms. "Come on, let's go get something to eat, and we'll battle plan, okay? Spike and Buffy just got here, they can take over. Plus Joyce and Giles are still here. Everyone's here."
"No. No, I think if I s-sit and wait and think about it, my head's just going to burst." Tara rubbed her temples. "I just need some air, Sweetie. Then I need to go back in and help Giles finish cataloging."
Willow nodded mutely. This wasn't what she wanted to do. She wanted action. Destruction. Impetuous, yet sustainable violence. She shook slightly as she released her lover. She'd never felt like this before. Not quite like this.
But she knew who had.
Willow smacked into Buffy as Buffy came barreling into her. "Buffy!"
"Wills, sorry we're late! I missed some classes the other day and I didn't realize the due date for one of my papers and I had angry professor ranting and - ugh. Sucky timing right?" Buffy lowered her voice. "How's Tara? Any word from her dad?"
"Where's Spike?" Willow demanded in a sort of choked, helpless voice Buffy didn't recognize.
"Uh- Spike?" Buffy hollered over her shoulder, taking Willow by the elbows and pulling her forward.
"Back room, Sl-Buffy!" Spike called, correcting himself as he became aware of the few patrons in the store.
"Come on, sit down, breathe... what's happening?" Buffy led Willow to the back room which was now empty except for a certain goth "art consultant".
"They're coming for her. They're coming for her and they're looking for her, I know it, she knows it, and I- ergh!" Willow balled her fists. "I know she has to face them, I just don't know what to do while she waits! A-and when they get here, I still don't know what to do. Spike- you're evil." Willow turned to him suddenly.
"Oi. Well- yeah, actually. What's the point?" Spike darted a glance at Buffy.
"You still get the urge to rip people to little pieces, right?" Willow asked, almost pleadingly. "But you have to be good, or Buffy would- you know- stake you and then die like a Romeo and Juliet type of thing maybe, so you control the urge to pull people's lying, evil, hurtful, inconsiderate tongues out of their mouths." Willow crushed her knuckles together and mimed a variety of gruesome but not very understandable gestures before looking up to Spike with her wide doe eyes. "Yeah. So. How do you do that?"
Spike stared. Buffy stared. Willow waited, eyes moving ceaselessly.
"You high? You take some witchy brew with a side of aggression?" Spike asked finally. "Also- who the bloody hell are we talkin' about? Who's comin' and who do they want? Blondie?"
"I need to keep her safe." Willow looked anxiously into the store's exterior. "I'll do whatever I have to. I have power. I could-"
"Lose Tara forever if you do something she can't live with." Buffy seized Willow's cheeks and turned her face back to meet her own. "You're scaring me."
"They're scaring her!" Willow almost sobbed in desperation.
"WHO?" Spike's shout echoed into the gallery.
"Do I need to close this store for a dinner break?" Anya screeched threateningly. "Because that's poor customer service!"
Buffy ignored everything. "Willow- I don't know what's going on exactly, but I know you're scaring me. And I'm pretty tough. But think about Tara."
"That's all I'm thinking about." Willow admitted. "She's strong. Stronger than you know." Willow whispered, lashes suddenly wet and dewey as she blinked. "She shouldn't be scared. And she shouldn't leave unless she wants to. I can't let her go Buffy, I just can't-" Willow clutched her sweater over her heart, wadding it into a tense bundle of fabric. "I can't live without her."
"If you hurt Tara's family 'cause you lose control, you might have to." Buffy whispered.
"You don't understand. You don't know what they did to-" Willow's lips sealed, then parted as she licked them. "Buffy, Spike- I don't know what to do in a case like this."
Spike's eyes narrowed. "Case like what?" He asked softly. What sort of "case" would make the spitfire, the good girl, tap into the flames? Can feel the blood boiling in her without even touching her. Spike's watched her rearrange her features, avoid his eyes. Someone's hurt Red's girl. Stupid mistake. The sweet, good ones... they haven't had the practice of bein' sly, bein' subtle, temperin' the hate. It'll consume her, and then she'll spew it forth on whoever earned it, hard, fast, obvious. All that power, and all that love...
"Willow can't really talk about-" Buffy filled the silence as Willow seemed tongue tied and Spike seemed to be trying to read her mind.
"She doesn't need to. I understand her. We both do. When someone hurts the one thing that makes your world turn, what do you wanna do?"
"Hurt it back." Willow ground out, guilt and anger warring inside her.
"Make it stop." Buffy whispered.
"Take it from the demon tryin' to play nice," Spike gave a tight smile, "don't give into the urge- unless it's them or you."
"What?" Willow didn't expect to hear that advice.
"Not you. You'll get a taste for it." Spike licked his blunted teeth. "It's hard to forget you've tasted it, too."
"Faith." Buffy shivered.
Willow doubted that she could ever "get a taste for it". It would be once, and only if necessary. Then the doubts were replaced with one certainty. Tara- Tara doesn't need one more person turning into a monster. She's had enough of that already. "Just help me, then? Help me if we have to keep them from-"
"Wills, are you crazy? You don't even need to ask!" Buffy cried.
The atmosphere relaxed. "I'm just freaked. And freaking." Willow explained needlessly.
"I get it."
"I don't!" Spike grunted in frustration. "Can one of you please tell me exactly what's about to happen, what I'm s'posed to be helpin' with?"
"I'd like to know a little more too, if that's cool with everyone." Buffy prodded gently.
Willow opened her mouth, and shut it with a small shrug. "Tara doesn't want to leave. That's all I can say."
The backdoor shut with a thud, and Willow bolted from the room. Tara appeared, paler than Willow had thought possible. The wiccas locked gazes. Spike and Buffy watched Willow's face transform into some blend of guilt, fear, and anger. Tara's face was immobile. For a second.
"My dad's truck just passed the cross street." Tara whispered. "I saw it turning through the alleyway, b-but I don't th-think he saw me."
Her face transformed. Something scared, lost, and desperate came over the gentle countenance.
The store seemed to freeze. Whether it was the tone, or the meaning of the words to those in the know, or just the look on their friend's face- they suddenly understood something was very wrong. No one said anything.
"Here is your change, madam." Giles' officious tones shattered the dread stillness. "I'm sorry... dinner break. Everyone out. Employees only, everyone else out. Thank you, thank you, yes, do come again." They knew something was serious, and the seriousness was driven home by the fact that Anya was the one who quickly went to open the door, and said nothing as Giles and Xander shooed out a handful of potential paying customers.
"Tara? What's going on?" Joyce rose from the stool kept behind the register.
"I- I should go. I need to go. I can't be here, I can't let you be here for-" Tara's stammer was worse, her breathing so fast and high that everything came out as a gasp.
"Get her some water." Giles ordered and Anya fled to the restroom in back.
"You don't need to leave, you need to stay right here, with us." Buffy said kindly, but firmly.
"I think I need to be filled in here." Xander said, perplexed.
"Tara?" A harsh voice called and all four figures jumped.
Tara let out a sharp, pained noise.
Willow, Buffy, Spike and Xander all gave each other puzzled glances. "Deja vu?" Xander scratched his head.
"Heard that before." Buffy murmured.
"You can't have." Willow whispered.
"Not in this world. Maybe some other." Spike growled in an undertone.
"Maybe the dream."
"Not my dream."
"All the dreams are blurring." Tara, pathway through most of them, replied in a hollow voice. Then, as ever, she automatically returned to caring for those around her. Xander asked me a question. "Um. Xander. I - I think th-that-"
Xander swallowed. "Never mind. Consider me caught up."
"Who is that?" Joyce came around from behind the counter, an anxious expression on her face.
"My family." Tara answered stiffly.
"Oh. My. Isn't that nice?" Joyce said in some perplexity.
"Not really, no." Willow replied. "Giles, you did lock that door, didn't you?"
He hadn't. He hurried to Joyce who was fumbling her hands across the counter now, looking for the key."Is someone going to try to get-"
"Tara!" A broad shouldered blonde man strode through the door, flinging it back enough to sprain the hinges. Anya, returning with the glass of water almost yelled out something about paying for damages, but froze as she saw Tara's stricken look. The man didn't seem to care, but blundered in with a cheerful, almost gloating tone."Thought I saw you around back!"
"D-Donny." Tara croaked.
"Dad went by the dorms, but you were out. Guy at the desk said you and your- roommate- worked here sometimes." Donny smiled around at the assembled crowd, a wide, oblivious smile on his face, eyes narrowing slightly when he caught sight of Willow's hands reaching for Tara's waist, almost like she was going to pull her away. "Whatsa matter, Tar? Don'tcha have a hug for your big brother?"
Tara stumbled forward and hugged him briefly- only he wouldn't let go. "Been too long, little sister."
"Hello. I'm Rupert Giles." Giles stuck his hand out pointedly, and Donny released Tara, who stepped back a little too quickly for common politeness, looking at her shoes.
"Pleased to meet you." Donny pumped his hand enthusiastically. "This your boss?"
"N-no. Just a friend. These are my friends." Tara found Willow pressed behind her again and began the introductions. "Willow, Buffy, Spike, Xander, Anya, Joyce, and M-Mr. Giles."
Donny laughed openly. "No kidding? That must be more people than you spoke to in high school." He gave his sister a friendly punch on the arm and Willow made a strangled noise in the back of her throat that set everyone on high alert.
"Donny, was it?" Joyce smiled. "What brings you to town?"
"Tara's birthday is tomorrow. Thought she ought to come home. Celebrate it with family." The smile remained on his face, but the eyes were suddenly hard. "Right, Tara?"
"That's very nice. A birthday with family." Joyce interjected when Tara didn't reply automatically.
"Wh-where's Dad?" Tara asked with a scratchy sounding voice, swallowing.
"Had trouble parking the truck with the camper attached. He's all hitched up and ready for the road home."
"Did-didn't he tell you I don't want to-" Tara never got to finish. Her voice died away as she saw two figures through the glass store front.
"There's my girl." Mr. Maclay and a petite girl with strawberry blonde hair entered the store. "Tara." He smiled stonily at her.
"Dad. Beth." Tara's head made a spasm that was supposed to be a nod of welcome.
"Dad, Tara's got friends." Donny said with a chuckle.
"Why shouldn't she?" Xander demanded as Willow made a spluttering sound. "She's a great girl. A nice person. Totally friend worthy!"
"Isn't that nice." Mr. Maclay nodded around the circle of onlookers. "Honey? Are you ready to go?"
"No. No. I'm- I'm still at work until seven." Tara stalled, and flushed. Everyone knows I'm scared and I'm stalling but I'm not doing anything about it. But I can't do anything about it...
"I'm sure these kind folks would let you leave early, just this once. For your birthday celebration with your family." Mr. Maclay locked eyes with Giles and Joyce who he assumed were the store's owners.
"I'm sure they would." Willow jutted her chin out firmly. "If - if Tara wanted to leave. Now. Which she doesn't. Now. Do you?" What started out confident ended up as nervous and a little desperate.
"And you are?" Mr. Maclay addressed her.
"I'm- Willow. I'm someone who respects Tara's wishes. And her friend." Willow said carefully. "I'm her very best friend."
"If you were her friend, then you wouldn't make her feel guilty about leaving a few hours early to go home with her family." Beth said primly in a barely civil voice.
"Erm. Perhaps we should give Tara a moment? To confer with her father and siblings."
"I'm a cousin." Beth said hotly. "On her father's side."
That caused raised eyebrows from most. Willow just mumbled something softly and angrily.
"Charming." Giles coughed, at a loss. "Why don't you four use the office?"
"But-" Willow reached for Tara's hand.
"I'll be fine. You'll be right here." Tara squeezed her hand briefly and spoke with that unique connection they had forged, her eyes pleading for them to stay close, but not make a scene. Willow's eyes seemed to reply, "Let them try to stop me."
"Dad. I'm n-not going home." Tara forced out the words with a shuddering breath.
Mr. Maclay frowned, but it was Beth who spoke up, furiously and in a lecturing tone, like a cross between a repressed spinster school marm and a wet hen. "What do you mean 'you're not going home'?"
"I- I think I'm b-better off-"
"You don't think! Or you never would've left in the first place. Your father and your brother - rattling around in that big old house, no one else around for miles-" Beth didn't notice Tara's sudden twitch. "You don't care about your family at all. Leaving them to fend for themselves. Your father's been worried sick! Wondering what sort of... black, satanic, demonic lifestyle you're living!"
"I'm not!" Tara yelped angrily.
"You're putting all these people in danger- just- just sitting here, like a ticking time bomb, waiting until midnight when you change." Beth looked at her like she was some virus waiting to be spread and infect the populace.
"N-no!" Tara shook her head frantically.
"Tara?" Buffy's voice called. "Would your company like some tea? Or sandwiches? There's a little shop right up the street that makes-"
"We're having a private conversation." Mr. Maclay interrupted. "We won't be long."
Beth's voice dropped to a whisper. "Your little 'friends' wouldn't care so much about you if they knew what you really are. Humans don't like to hang out with half-demons. That's why you never had any-" Beth broke off as Tara suddenly smiled. "What?"
"You don't know my friends." Tara whispered, smile hanging on by a thread.
"Do they know what you are? Have you told them?" Her father's voice drove the smile off her face.
"She hasn't. She lies. Lies all the time." Donny insisted roughly. Tara backed up a step.
"Have you been doing spells on them?" Beth gasped, and Tara started guiltily. "You have!"
"I haven't! Protection sp-spells. S-some charms f-for safety-"
"From you! Oh, Tara, if you have to 'magically' get your friends to stay with you, then they're not really your friends. You shouldn't have to protect them to be around them."
"Not from me, I'm n-not dangerous!" Tara cried brokenly.
"You think performing your magic on innocent people isn't dangerous?"
"You know what she can drive people to." Donny murmured to his father.
"That does it. You think they'll accept you? Wait until I tell them, and then we'll see, Tara." Mr. Maclay folded his arms. "This is your last chance. Come with us graciously, with some sort of dignity, or watch your friends reject you."
Willow won't. Spike won't. Anya won't. Buffy loves Spike. Xander loves Anya. And everything he says is a lie anyway. "Whatever I am- I'm staying here. Y-you can tell them whatever you want." Tara whispered, and pushed the door open with an effort.
"Tara!" Willow rushed to her side and a half-circle of Scoobies formed around her. "Are you okay?"
"She is not okay. She is very far from okay. She is going home. Tara has a very serious problem and only her family knows how to treat it."
"Is that so?" Spike looked the gray haired man up and down. "What problem is that?"
"That's none of your concern. She's going home with her family and that's all that matters."
"I'm not!" Tara shouted, fists clenched, eyes closed. Paintings swayed on their hangers, pedestals rocked. "I. Am. Staying. Here." She didn't stutter. Her voice had a curious tone to it, but nothing that screamed of magic.
"If Tara wants to stay here, then it seems there's no more need for you to - be on these premises." Giles said as diplomatically as possible.
"Tara is welcome here at any time." Joyce added, taking Giles' arm.
"That's very kind of you." Mr. Maclay said through clenched teeth, "but this is not your affair. I am her father and I say what will happen to her, and where she will go."
"Whoa. I'm sorry- you don't get more 'old fashioned' girl than me," Anya cocked her head thoughtfully, "and even I thought that sounded like something out of a couple centuries ago."
"Tara wants to stay." Willow defended her shaking girlfriend. "It might not be our decision, but it is hers!"
"No, it's not!" Danny stomped his foot. "Dad!"
"Get in the car right now, Tara. Don't make more mess than you have already. You don't move yourself, young lady, I'll move you." He looked around the shocked faces before him and dared anyone to argue. "This is my child. I don't want any interference."
"You picked the wrong people to say that to, mate." Spike chuckled darkly.
"Sure. You go ahead and take her." Buffy said grimly, arms crossing defensively as she stepped forward. "You just have to take me first."
The Maclay clan looked stunned. This tiny California girl, with her long blonde hair and her prettily applied make up- threatening them? "What?"
"You heard her." Spike rubbed his hands gleefully.
"Me next." Willow's fingertips flickered.
"I'm in." Anya had pleasant memories of vengeance dancing through her mind as she stepped forward.
"As are we all." Giles disengaged Joyce's arm and took off his glasses.
"Is this some sort of joke?" Mr. Maclay demanded. "A bunch of teenage girls-"
"I'm afraid this is deadly serious. And I'm afraid you're not just dealing with just a few young ladies, Mr. Maclay." Giles began very deliberately rolling up his sleeves.
"That's right." Xander informed them. "You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us."
"This is insane. You people have no right to interfere with Tara's affairs. We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?"
Ask a stupid question. The Scoobies looked at each other. Mother, father, partners, siblings. Only two people out of their group had any form of 'blood' tie. But the answer was blindingly obvious. Buffy told the newcomers what all of them knew but didn't always take time to say. "We're family."
Tara's chest heaved and she smiled through a splash of single bright tears. Family. A real family. Willow wiped the drops away, smiling through her own misty vision.
Mr. Maclay had reached that deep, silent rage, and it rendered him speechless for a moment. Not so for his impetuous, immature son.
"Bullshit." Donny barked, and marched up to Tara and Willow, then turned back and entreated his father. "Dad! You- you gonna let 'em just..." He gestured at Tara standing in this cluster of people. He turned back to his sister, forefinger extended warningly. "Tara, if you don't get in that car, I swear by god I will beat you down."
Snarls and exclamations broke out, but Xander was the one who strung words together this time. "And I swear by your full and manly beard, you're gonna break something trying."
"Make it a lot of somethings." Willow backed him up.
"Make it everything, what the hell." Buffy smiled with false sweetness. Donny looked cowed and fell silent.
Beth's snippy voice filled the space where Donny's bluster should have been, had it not been temporarily deflated. "Well. I hope you'll all be happy hanging out with a disgusting demon."
Glances were exchanged yet again. Anya raised her hand. "Excuse me. What kind?"
Beth blinked. "What?"
"What kind of demon? Are you saying Tara is a demon?"
"Okay... so what kind is she? There's a lot of different kinds. Some are very, very evil. And some have been considered to be useful members of society." Anya finished with a preening smile.
"You tell 'em, Ahn." Xander gave her the thumbs up.
Beth was flummoxed. She'd never been aware of "kinds". Just what her uncle told her. A demon. A nasty, hell-bastard creature. "Well, I-I ... what does it matter?"
"Evil is evil." Mr. Maclay's rage subsided enough to loosen his tongue. Her friends hadn't been shocked at all. Far from it. More curious. Frustration added to the anger.
"Well, let's just narrow it down." Anya put her hands on her hips and glared at Beth. "You're talking to some experts here, so let's go. Why is Tara a 'disgusting demon'?"
Donny had apparently realized that verbal skirmishes wouldn't get them anywhere. As his father fumed and Anya and Beth sniped, he waited, and watched. As heads turned towards the speakers, away from their watchful position on Tara- he snagged her arm. Hard. He pulled. "I've got her, let's go!"
There was a white burst, like a single camera flash, and a hoarse, masculine cry.
Tara jerked her arm away, with a frantic cry, "Don't touch me! No one touches me unless I want them to!" I hurt him. I hurt Donny. Oh my God. His hand. His hand!
Donny stared at his fingers. Everyone did. Red and blistered, clearly burnt, he held them out, shaking.
"Dad! She's turnin' now! Her skin! The demon blood is bubbling up through it, it's boiling! She's going to burn us alive!" Donny looked wild eyed at his hand and jibbered like an overgrown toddler. He snorted with pain and the effort of not blubbering as he rushed to his father, injured digits outstretched.
Mr. Maclay, disgusted by this show of hysteria and weakness, shoved the hand away harshly. "Don't be a fool, it's just her magical ways."
"She didn't do a spell! It's her skin! It burns. She's not burning up 'cause she's one of them now, Dad! She's a demon!"
"Why does everyone keep saying that like it's a bad thing?" Anya muttered crossly.
"Shut up, Donny!"
"But she's turned already!"
"Shut up! She hasn't turned, she's just a witch, with witchy tricks! Her mother's people were all the same, like the devils themselves but not a drop of demon in-" Mr. Maclay stopped shouting at his wailing, panicking son as the words crossed his lips. He started speaking rapidly and loudly at Tara, about what a danger she was, but it was no good. Everyone caught the slip of his tongue.
Tara waded to her father through invisible barriers of shock and anger, feeling every step dragging her feet. "What did you say?"
"You've burnt your brother's hand. Are you happy? Don't you see how dangerous you are?"
Tara didn't feel the familiar guilt and shame, her eyes remained focused on her father. "You knew? You knew... all this time and you lied to me?" Her head cocked in heartbroken confusion, waiting for a denial that never came.
"You don't belong here." Mr. Maclay reached for her arm, but Tara simply shrugged herself out of the way.
"You made me believe I was bad. That I was evil. Are you saying all the time you knew that I- I'm just a witch?"
"Witches are evil, no matter what your mother said!"
"Hey!" Willow shouted indignantly. Buffy waved her to silence.
Tara shook her head, mouth trembling, bowing in the middle as her lips gave way to a shaking cry. "You knew what happened - what happened to me wasn't my fault, that it couldn't be- d-demonic or anything like that! But you still didn't do anything?"
Mr. Maclay laughed harshly. "You were doing enough all by yourself. Oh, you were going bad- just like your mother. Partying. I knew about you and the boys-"
"But Tara's a-" Anya raised her hand again.
"Shhhh!" Xander gave her a worried stare, afraid to take his eyes of the family drama unfolding for more than a second.
The angry father continued his tirade. "You and your spell books, lying, keeping secrets- turning into your mother. She always used to promise she'd stop, then I'd catch her, with her herbs and her chants and her - her eyes! 'Reading people'! Things no human should do!"
"A gift doesn't make you evil!" Tara grasped the air around her for support, but no one was beside her now. She rocked to the side and then steadied herself. "Mom never hurt any-"
"She hurt herself plenty! I shouldn't have let her continue with that nonsense, but no, she snuck around, did her 'rituals' and her 'rites', said it was in her blood- until damn if those tests didn't prove it really was- something in her blood all right, killing her."
"Cancer, Dad! Cancer! It kills people, n-not just wiccas, but normal people, people like -" Tara stopped speaking with a stricken look at Joyce, then a horrified, apologetic look at Buffy and Giles. "I- I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"
"No, you didn't mean it. Didn't mean to let yourself get hurt, neither did your mother. But by God, Tara, if I couldn't stop her, I'll stop you." He came oppressively close to his daughter, in an overpowering, threatening stance, reaching for a fistful of her hair this time.
"You don't need to have demon blood in you, to still be marked by the devil."
His hand never connected. Something black and white and irritable blurred the air and grabbed him by the wrist. "D'you wanna get burned, you twit?" Spike spat, pushing Tara roughly out of the way, back into the waiting arms of Willow and Buffy.
"Take your hands off me!"
"No, I don't think I will. You're the one goin' around spoutin' off about bein' marked by the devil." Spike smiled unpleasantly. "I've got demon blood in me and I'll be bloody happy to 'mark' you up as much as you like." The smile slowly shifted, replaced by hard creases, ridges where human muscles never went. "Whaddya say, Daddy Dearest?" Spike taunted through snapping fangs.
Mr. Maclay turned the color of spoiled milk and jerked his arm away as Spike shoved him back a step. Looking frantically at Donny and Beth, he gasped out, "It's happened. Oh, God, I knew it wasn't white magic. She's called the devils out of hell! Back! Back!" He held a hand out towards Spike, who rolled his eyes.
Donny's hysterical sputtering increased, but Beth didn't seem to be as afraid of Spike as much as she seemed to be in a mild form of shock. "Wait- you lied to us? You lied to your family? You knew this was a lie?" She looked at both the vampire and her fanatical uncle fearfully.
"Now who's on the bus to hell?" Xander said snarkily.
"This one'd lie about anything if it kept her weak and scared to go against him." Spike ran his eyes up and down Mr. Maclay like he was inspecting a cut of meat in a butcher's window. One got the impression this particular cut was infested with maggots as Spike's face contorted in disgust. "You like your women kept in line. Do anything to make sure they bowed to the lord and master. So concerned about family appearances you'd lie? Make yourself look like the big man?"
Mr. Maclay swallowed and spoke to his family instead of his accuser. "Apparently it's not a lie. Look at who she's with, Beth, Donny. You can see I've been right all along! No human would tolerate the presence of this demon unless she was one herself!"
"Utter rubbish." Giles cried.
"Weren't you listening to what I said about demons being productive members of society?" Anya asked indignantly.
"You're the ones who are lying!" Donny bellowed unexpectedly, looking like he was working up the courage to tackle someone. "You- you're all tainted! You're all freaks!"
"Stop that!" Tara hissed angrily at her brother. "You have no right to say things like that, to accuse people of things like that!"
"Shut up." Spike turned to Tara abruptly, and smiled. In his vampiric face, it was a terrifying look. "Your family doesn't know what's what, what's demon and what's not." He grabbed her wrist- but though he did it with a lightning strike move, Tara didn't burn him, only gasped. "You folks all agree that I'm a demon, don't you?" He lead in a dark, coaxing tone, something malicious in each syllable.
"Then here's a little lesson from the hellspawn. Demons can smell other demons." Spike pulled Tara to his side, making her eyes dart nervously. "We smell demon blood. Half blood, quarter blood, just a trace- I can smell it a thousand yards off." He laid his head gently alongside Tara's, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Tara let out a muted whimper. Spike lightly squeezed her wrist. It's okay. Gonna get us all out of this soon. "Mmmmm." Spike let out a long sigh. Then his dark yellow eyes snapped open and his face was set in frigid lines. "Fresh. Pure." He advanced towards Mr. Maclay. "We're talking the driven snow, mate." A wide, sinister smile widened his already grotesquely craggy features.
"You right evil bastard- manipulatin', lying- I could've gotten along with you- if you hadn't turned on your own daughter to do it- an' how you did it-" Spike growled and shook his head.
Tara gave Willow a stricken glance, but Willow shook her head and shrugged.
Spike did not. "Wanna see a real demon in action?"
"Stop. Spike, s-stop." Spike dropped into his human features easily as soon as Tara spoke. "Dad, p-please just go." She made one final plea.
"No! I'm not leaving you here, with these- these monsters."
"I'd rather be with honest monsters than ones who pretend they won't hurt you." Tara whispered. "Go. Please. I wanna stay here."
He hesitated. Beaten but too proud, too stubborn, to used to bullying to admit it. "You're my daughter, and you belong with this family."
"This is her family." Willow stepped up, took her lover's hand possessively. "People who love her the way she is, whatever she is!"
"Yeah. Freaks. Like you." Donny spat, obviously shaken, darting nervous glances at his father.
"Well, as the chief freak," Buffy raised her hand, "I say you'd better get out of this store, right now, and leave Tara here. With the family that may be freakier, but seems a whole lot nicer."
"I can't reason with people like you." Mr. Maclay pushed Beth aside carelessly and began to march towards Tara. "Enough talk. You're getting in the car."
"You heard the man, no point in using reason with 'people like us'." Xander rushed forward.
"I call the father!" Spike caught on.
"I got the bearded wonder." Xander shouted.
"Seriously? Can't a girl get in a little ass kicking around here?" Buffy made for Mr. Maclay, close on Spike's heels.
With a shriek, Beth flew from the store. Donny took a futile swing, but years of fighting- and getting hurt, had given Xander excellent ducking skills. He tackled the burly man and shoved him out the swinging glass door that Anya held open.
Spike let out a feral, purely demonic sound and threw Mr. Maclay bodily out, letting Buffy hustle them all towards the truck parked down the block.
"I've never said this before, but we don't want your business!" Anya shouted after them. "Take your lies and money someplace else!"
"Are you all right?" Joyce hurried over to Tara as the unwelcome visitors left.
Tara nodded, smiling shakily, clutching Willow for support. I stood up to them. They didn't take me. I'm not a demon and Dad lied. Dad knew he was lying. He knew- that I was never "cursed" but he still treated me- Tara's knees gave out and she sat heavily on the floor, shaking slightly.
"Tara!" Willow gasped and followed her down.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Mrs. S-Summers, I didn't mean to cause all this t-trouble." Tara said through chattering teeth as she cast a pleading look at Joyce. She snuggled into Willow to get warm, suddenly cold and queasy.
"You didn't cause anything." Joyce comforted staunchly. "Those- those people did."
"People is such a generous term." Anya grumbled and locked the door after Buffy, Spike, and Xander reentered. "Crazy, stupid, unkind, rude, chauvinistic-"
"That's Tara's family you're talking about. Shh." Buffy tugged on her arm.
"Nu-uh." Xander tried to simultaneously defend Anya, and cheer up the trembling figure on the floor, "I believe we were declared the true family. The once and future relatives." Putting an arm around Anya's waist, they sauntered over to the huddle on the floor.
"All right?" Spike asked, leaning against some expensive sculpture he really shouldn't have touched. "Sorry about the sniffin' thing, just thought it'd shut your old man up."
"It did. All of you did. All of you-" Tara closed her eyes and put her hand to her cheeks to collect herself. "Thank you."
"Any time." Buffy smiled and reclined on the floor beside her.
"We love you." Willow reminded her softly.
Tara smiled at them, all of them, her eyes welling up yet again, her mind a churning mess of emotions, victorious, shocked, relieved, embarrassed, grateful... It's over. But now all of them know so much more about me, they have questions, they've seen things I wished no one would ever see. This was my fresh start, where the past wasn't going to hurt me anymore. That failed.
Now it's all over. The rush is over, the emergency is over and there's just me, the girl with the psychotic family who crashed Mrs. Summers' store and humiliated me in front of the only friends I've ever had. She resisted the urge to dry heave.
I'd still rather be left here, not knowing what'll happen next, than in that truck with them, knowing exactly what my life would be like. Miserable and lonely.
"Thank you." Tara repeated more softly.
"Right. Okay, so... that was the happy birthday from hell." Xander said loudly, making everyone gasp. "Now, obviously the day isn't until tomorrow, but I say that craziness deserves a traditional Scooby happy birthday follow up."
"Oh not a traditional one." Buffy bounced to her feet. "My traditional birthdays include things of the major bad happening. Monsters. Kidnapping. Boyfriends going evil..." She leaned against Spike affectionately. "Guess I'm good for that this year." She offered Tara a hand to help her off the floor. "Oooh, so you're really, really extra officially a Scooby now. You've had birthday suckage."
Tara laughed and nodded, blushing.
"I concur. About the need to wash this fiasco away. Not the -hrm- suckage." Giles winced. Spike rolled his eyes sympathetically.
"The way she talks..." Spike groaned.
"If we could all get off the floor?" Giles offered Willow a hand.
"Do we think Bronze?" Xander asked the room at large. Willow gave him an angry stare. "Oh. Oh, no, not the Bronze. We go there so often." Xander covered hastily, recalling Tara's little party was already scheduled there for tomorrow night. "We should go some place fun and different."
Tara finally found her voice over the lump that was forming. It was just enough to be with these people. They didn't have to take her out anywhere to cheer her up. "We don't have to go out."
"Yes we do! You're family, and we throw family birthday parties! And pre-birthday parties as well." Buffy declared.
Tara's queasiness and jelly legs faded into calm. Maybe they know my past - and maybe they can guess some of the things that happened to me. It doesn't matter. They don't love me any less. In fact, this is the first time in a long time I've felt like more than one person loved me at all. "There's a new Chinese place opening on Third?"
"Should we go now?"
"For a party this large, it might be wise to get a reservation."
Plans begin to form, filling the air. Willow was silent, just stroking Tara's hair contentedly. She's safe. She's here. Thank God.
So that's the secret. Tara comes with a side of crazy people. Welcome to the club. Buffy watched Willow urgently whispering something to her lover, nodding emphatically, reassuring, while her eyes still occasionally checked the perimeter.
Will wanted to rip them apart. I can see why. But she did what she needed to do more, be there for Tara. Tara has enough violence in her past- at least of the emotional, screaming at you and lying to you kind of violence. Buffy recalled a few little snips of language and hints that she'd gotten through the course of getting to know Tara. She suspected the verbal violence wasn't the end of things. She shuddered suddenly against Spike. I'm glad Willow kept the raging, 'rip them into pieces' side in check though. Sometimes it's important just to be with them when they need you most. Another sudden shudder, and she sank into the hardness of the body beside her, grateful to have someone to lean on, someone who wouldn't leave her leaning into emptiness, falling.
"Okay, Slayer?" He murmured for her ears only, tightening his arm subtly around her hips.
Buffy smiled at him in return. "Sure. Wasn't my trauma today."
"Ah, you're all so bloody tangled up. One big blob, spell or no spell." He said with mock disgust.
"For an 'outsider' you did some pretty good growling and threatening." She reminded him.
"Well..." He tried to look modest and failed. "Hate that sort of human." Quite like the girl as well. Unlike her father. Evil bastard. If anyone gets the demon lookalike prize, it'd be that one, not the daughter. "Woulda liked to break that one's windpipe, don't mind sayin'."
"Glad you didn't. My dad isn't in the same category of awfulness or anything, but he's not going to win father of the year anytime soon. Still- I would feel horrible if I thought I was responsible for him getting hurt." Buffy looked lingeringly at Joyce, who was deep in conversation with Giles. "Maybe that's why I'm not too busy wishing he was around."
"Hey, now." Spike chided. "You protect 'em however you can." His voice became distant, but she didn't seem to notice, her own mind far away. "Do whatever you have to, whatever you think'll be best..." Even if you're dead wrong, you had to try. And at least if they're far away, they're not in the line of fire...
"You're good on the saying the right stuff front." Buffy sighed as his words penetrated.
"Mmm, do I get treats?" He asked seductively.
"Later." Buffy hurriedly whispered as Willow and Tara began to move, seeming to signal everyone should get themselves in order and head out.
"Joyce and I will drive and meet you there." Giles called over his shoulder as the couples paired off and fell into line.
"I'm not quite up to walking that far." Joyce explained over a chorus of voices immediately reassuring her, brushing her words away.
Spike and Buffy brought up the rear of the line, and then the couples spread out a little, paired off, happy in their own shaken, grateful ways.
"Think she'll be okay?" Buffy watched Willow and Tara swaying together, heads meeting in the middle.
"Yeah. 'Specially when she has the army of 'freaks' about her. God, the soul chafes a bit sometimes. Coulda done with a little less blood in him, that one."
"You did a good job restraining yourself to just a little father football." Buffy recalled the way Spike had thrown Mr. Maclay viciously from the store.
"Rugby, Pet. Now if I'd kicked him out, literally-"
"Is this one of those English things again?"
"It's an everywhere but this country thing." Spike snapped.
"Can you just hurry up and get that British to American dictionary you promised me- like- forever ago?"
"If you'd jus' listen when I talk, Luv."
"You have better things to do with your mouth." Buffy flirted.
"I don't really need the Chinese, Baby." Spike tried to tug her in the opposite direction. "Prefer a little honey..."
"Spike! Later!" Buffy giggled.
"Stop having verbal sex! We can hear the giggling and salivating!" Xander shouted back in aggravation.
"No, you shut up!"
Tara stopped abruptly and spun around. She said nothing, just beamed. Her light was infectious.
"Happy early birthday, Sweetie." Willow whispered. "I mean- I hope that it's-"
"Very happy. I'm with all of you." Tara grinned.
In all the joy and all the bickering, the coming down from the adrenaline highs, no one thought too hard about the details. In all the joyful, relieved confusion, no one found time to notice that Spike, supposedly harmless, had been able to hurt Mr. Maclay- a human.
To be continued...