Author's Notes: Welcome to my second Willow and Tara story. This is a romance, but a slow one, since the girls are both still shy teens. This is also a story about mothers and daughters, so expect to see lot of the Summers and the Maclays. Obviously some details of Tara's childhood will be inventions of my own deranged mind, but hopefully they'll be believable. There will be discussion of real world demons like cancer and domestic abuse, so be warned. My outline has this lasting twenty six chapters, but it could end up longer or shorter depending on how things go. This first chapter has a lot internal monologue and not much dialogue, but that's just to get things set up; not all of them will be like this. Reviews and suggestions are always much appreciated!
Chapter One: First impressions
Buffy made her way down the dark streets she'd come to know so well over the previous year. The familiarity offered little comfort. A voice in the back of her head kept whispering to her, This is where you fell. This is where you died. You're not safe. You were never safe. She wasn't sure what had given her the itch to go out tonight. Partly she hoped she would run into Willow and Xander; partly she hoped she would run into trouble and could feel safer by the killing of it.
Her second wish was granted as she turned down the street to pass by the Espresso Pump. Under a malfunctioning streetlight a few stores down from the coffee shop was a high school age girl with dark blonde hair, caught in a pincer attack between two vampires. She looked terrified and was holding up her right hand as if begging them to stop. No screams or pleas were coming from her mouth though; in fact she seemed to be struggling to get out any sound at all. The vampires seemed amused at the gesture and were chuckling as they licked their lips hungrily. Buffy sighed and pulled a stake out of her jacket.
Tara cursed silently. She was trying to chant a spell at her attackers but her tongue wouldn't cooperate. She knew getting ambushed was her own fault for going out so late, but it had been the first time since her family moved to Sunnydale that she'd had a chance to get out of the house on her own. It had been just her luck that the elusive "Magic Box" was already closed for the evening when she got there. Naturally the people here would close shop early if things like these leonine faced creatures roamed after dark. Tara figured it must have something to do with the dismal energy she and her mother could feel permeating the entire town. If she hadn't felt the hostility coming from the fiends a few moments before they ambushed her she wouldn't have even have had time to attempt a spell. Now her speech impediment was going to get her killed without even a fighting chance at stopping them.
She took a deep breath to try and bull her way through the incantation when the beast before her went stock still, a point of wood jutting through the center of its chest. His fang filled mouth curled back in a howl of pain as his form split apart into a cloud of dust framing his skeleton for a split second before it, too, dissolved. Tara was mid-inhale as it happened and her throat filled with the ashy tasting dust. She coughed helplessly, her second attacker turning his attention to the figure that had dispatched the first. Tara was surprised at her rescuer's appearance. She was a small, thin blonde girl no older than her. She stood holding the wooden stake she had just used in a battle stance, staring down the remaining assailant. They began to spar as Tara stepped backwards to get out of the way, hacking out what dust she could. Her mystery savior was dressed very oddly for someone so obviously used to combat, with a black jacket, white blouse, and short pale blue skirt with little floral patterns. The girl seemed able to kick in the skirt well enough though, smashing her less than completely practical shoes into her opponent. Curiosity overcame the witch as she finally caught her breath and she looked at the girl with her special gift, the gift of reading auras.
The girl's energy was frightening, raw and powerful. In Tara's mind people's spirits always resonated with aspects of nature. This girl was like a mountain lion on the hunt. Her aura burned hotter than a fire, and her life force seemed too great to be contained in one body, let alone one that for all appearances was just another pretty blonde valley girl. There was just the slightest hint of darkness at the girl's center, a kind of gnawing dread. Who on Earth was she?
Tara didn't have time to ask because another one of the fanged creatures was coming out the alley beside them. He made his way to lunge at the curiously strong blonde's undefended back and the Wiccan knew she had to find her voice.
Blue sparks of light shot from her fingertips at the beast's yellow eyes. It snarled and batted at its face uselessly, giving the other girl time to react.
Buffy looked behind her to see the newly arrived vamping swatting at tiny blue fireworks. She drove her stake into his exposed chest and was caught around the neck from behind by the one she had just kicked down. The other girl stared at her, hand out again, her brow furrowed in concentration. Weird chanting and hand gestures, spontaneous light shows, the Slayer thought as she gripped the vampire's arm, So tonight's citizen in peril is a witch. Only in Sunnydale. Before any more chanting could commence Buffy shifted her weight to throw the vamp over her shoulder and to the ground. He slammed down hard and she followed up with a punch to his head from her free hand before finishing with the stake. The Slayer brushed off the debris of her fight as she stood to look at the girl she had just rescued. She didn't seem to have any neck wounds, but it was dark and she could be losing blood from someplace else.
"Are you hurt?" Buffy asked as the girl started to cough again.
"I'm f-f-fine." She looked at the dissipating clouds of vamp dust. "Those men… they were v-vampires, weren't they?"
Buffy's eyebrows raised a little. She supposed it wasn't too surprising that one thing that went bump in the night would recognize another, not that the whole stake-to-heart and fangly face combo wasn't a dead giveaway to their vampireness. A witch with a stutter, ouch. That has to be annoying when she wants to say a spell. And that explained why she felt safe at night on her own. Thugs and rapists wouldn't be much of a threat to someone who could blind them with pretty lights or maybe turn the thug's hands into pig trotters or something. Of course Sunnydale had much worse monsters prowling the night than simple thugapists.
"Yep." She said a bit brusquely. "I'm guessing you're new in town, huh?"
The teen witch nodded nervously, her arms moving to hug herself around the chest.
"Well, a good rule of thumb here is never travel alone after sunset." Buffy considered that a moment. Except that I'm on my own and telling her that. "Unless…"
"You have su-super strength?" The girl finished for her tentatively.
"Pretty much." Her eyes widened as she realized what she had just done. Sure other people had seen her slaying, but most people she saved didn't stay afterwards for a nice chat with her. Ostensibly she was supposed to be keeping up a secret identity, but really, how well could Giles expect her to do that on the literal Mouth of Hell? Well, it wasn't like she was giving out her name and social security number. "About that. It's probably for the best if you don't go telling people about what you saw tonight…"
The girl shook her head. "I w-won't." She turned her blue eyes to the sidewalk for minute, her hair falling to cover her face. The witch looked back up at her hesitantly, taking a few breaths before asking. "Y-you won't tell anyone about… me, will you?"
"Your secret's safe with me." She agreed. The other girl's mouth almost seemed to relax into a near smile before she got a startled look like she was remembering something vitally important.
"Th-thank you for saving me. I don't know… I don't think I would have made it."
You wouldn't have. The Slayer thought grimly. They both turned to continue to their separate destinations, Buffy stopping as they passed each other. For some reason she felt bad about leaving this girl to make her way in the night alone. She held out her stake to offer it to the taller girl.
"Keep this with you."
The witch murmured her gratitude and clutched it close as she made her way down the street. Buffy sighed again as she resumed her hunt for her friends. There's no place like home.
Tara crept into her house with the greatest of care, years of practice at keeping her movements silent serving her well even in a new building. Once she was in her room she opened the loosened floorboards over her private stash of books and artifacts, gently adding the wooden stake to the collection. She was grateful for it, and would be sure to research spells to help fend off any vampires she might meet in the future. But tonight her research had a different aim. She had to figure out just what that mystery girl was. With the floorboards in place she changed into a nightgown and went to the bathroom. Nothing suspicious about being caught like that. It took several brushings and many glasses of water before her mouth and throat felt clean. She returned to her bedroom and fetched her flashlight and one of the books on the paranormal she had acquired on the sly a few years ago. Tara had been drawn to the title, People of Extraordinary Power, but had been disappointed to find that it held little information on witches or people cursed with demon blood. She got under the covers of her bed and flipped through the chapters, passing entries like "Bio-electric generation", "Psychics: Precognitive type, Telekinetic type, Telepathic type", before coming to "Slayer, the". It began with a brief summary of their powers (super-strength, stamina, reflexes, enhanced healing and senses, and unconfirmed allegations of prophetic dreams) that fit the mystery fighter to a tee. The chapter went on to quote an excerpt from the legends about them.
"Into every generation, a Slayer is born. One girl, in all the world, a chosen one. One born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil. Throughout the ages she has always been there. Forsaking friends and family. Protecting the innocent. Facing the darkness, wherever she might find it. This is the way it has always been, and must always be. In the face of such evil, the life of one girl is such a small price to pay."
Tara frowned. Forsaking friends and family sounded like a poor trade off for super powers. She continued reading, already feeling somewhat sorry for the girl who had saved her life. The book was sorely lacking in specifics on these vampire hunters. Apparently the secrets of the Slayers were hard to come by because they were watched over by an ancient and secretive organization that took it upon themselves to train each girl who inherited the Slayer's powers. The book had even less details on them. There was a table listing known Slayers from history, and Tara was disturbed to notice very few of them had lived past their teens. Maybe the life of one girl was a small price to pay to protect the entire world, but this was girl after girl in an endless chain. The list ended with a black and white photo of a woman with a short afro wearing a long leather duster.
Nikki Wood, most recent known Slayer. Killed in New York by the vampire William the Bloody.
People of Extraordinary Power had been published in 1980, so there had probably been several Slayers between Nikki and the short blonde warrior she had met. Her heart went out in sympathy to her. That girl was doomed to a short violent life, and likely wouldn't live to see age twenty. Tara wasn't sure if she thought that was better or worse than her own situation. In many ways her own life would be over when her twentieth birthday arrived, but at least she had a good shot at living past it.
It was strange to love and hate one thing so passionately, Tara thought as she entered Sunnydale High for her first day at her new school. The love had come first. At her tiny elementary school in her family's hometown of Woodville, Alabama, school meant a fascinating variety of new things to learn and books to read. Being around other children was a bit awkward with her shyness, but for the most part she got along well with her classmates. Granted, time at school meant time away from her mother and the protection she provided, but that in turn meant time away from her father, the main thing she needed to be protected from.
The hatred came later when she started going to middle school in the larger city of Huntsville. The seeds of her bad middle school experience were sown during her brother Donny's first year there. Their father had taken him aside one night and began to teach him how to control their mother and Tara's 'problem'. For that first year it had only been an issue at home, but when she joined Donny at junior high she had no place to run. Her brother acted as Donald Senior's eyes, ears, and in the darkest times, hands at school. In addition Donny had been cultivating his own social image, joining sports teams and earning a reputation as a tough guy. His oddball sister gave him someone to harass and gain social status by othering. She went from being "Tara, that quiet nature loving girl," to "Donny Maclay's weirdo sister". With puberty came an increase in her power, and things only got worse. Any hint of spell casting in public and Donny was there to make sure that the family secret stayed an old Woodville legend rather than an active rumor.
Most people were either too put off by her weirdness or too scared of Donny to approach her, but there were a few kids who found her interest in the occult cool. They would get together to at each other's houses to engage in the adolescent equivalent of witchcraft. Of course they could only meet at Tara's house during the rare times when both her father and brother were away. The others expressed a passing interest when she tried to share with them what her mother had taught her about the Earth and balance, but mostly they seemed eager to piss off their conservative parents. Tarot cards were a favorite, as was the Ouija board. Tara didn't have the heart to tell them that she doubted Parker Brothers had found a way to mass produce a conduit to the underworld, so she humored them.
The summer after graduation the group split apart and didn't bother getting back together when freshman year started. Tara's kind-of-girlfriend Emma wasn't even in the same school as them anymore, but enough people from junior high knew about her relationship to start up the rumors. Now she was "that creepy Satanist dyke", and not even her former friends would defend her from the disgusted looks and jeers that followed her down the hallways each day. She found the best way to survive was to sit as far in the back of class as she could, look straight ahead or straight down, and not speak a word. Eventually she got good enough at hiding that she was almost invisible, an improvement over being a hated freak.
These past few months Donny and her father had at least been distracted by her mother's illness to pay her little attention. If they stayed preoccupied she might even have a chance at a somewhat mellow school year. She supposed a new school was a chance to reinvent herself, but she couldn't think what she should reinvent herself into. Someone artsy? Nerdy? Maybe even try for a bit of California flavor and go hippie? It was a stupid idea. She was no great actor, and the best way to keep anyone at Sunnydale High from seeing the things that had made her an outcast in Alabama was to hide. Tara knew just the place, and as soon as she had a break she was on her way there.
Sunnydale's library was a completely different beast from Huntsville's. Where Huntsville has gone to great lengths to appear modern and high tech this place seemed determined to be as old-fashioned and imposing as possible. It was saturated in the smell of paper and binding, from the chemical bitterness of newly printed textbooks to the almost spicy must of old classics. The massive bookshelves were apparently doing their jobs of warding off students, as there was no one Tara could see browsing the stacks. When she stepped further into the room her stomach gave a lurch. Something about the air was making her queasy. No, not the air. The energy. The sinister vibes that hummed like background radiation all over town became concentrated into a low growling here. It was scary and thrilling at the same time. Her mother had taken her to places of power before, like the hidden glens in the forest resonating with the vigor of life or old civil war battle sites steeped in the shadows of death and violence. All of them paled before the strength of this power. If only it weren't tainted…
Some weeks ago, a few days after the Maclays moved into Sunnydale.
"We could use it, if we were careful. Why don't you want to?"
"You know why Tara. Why use magic…"
"'… When you can do something naturally?' I know."
Tara and her mother Eileen were sitting on a park bench near one of Sunnydale's patches of woods. The town was coursing with its own mystic energy, and they could both feel it mixing with the natural energy of the Earth. Eileen's power had been fading with her health as the cancer progressed, but Tara felt a glimmer of hope that being around this much magick could restore her mother's strength.
"But you've used healing spells before. Why not now?"
The older witch took in a deep breath, leaning her head back to let the sunlight hit all of her gaunt face.
"A healing spell works best when it enhances the body's own natural healing. Cancer is a corruption, a mutation of the flesh. Those mutated cells could just as easily end up growing faster after a casting." She turned to look at her daughter, placing her thin hand over hers in reassurance. "We'll fight them with medicine. It's far safer than using dark energy like this."
Tara nodded and squeezed her mother's hand. She was being so strong throughout all this pain, so she had to do her best in return. Tara just wished she hadn't spent so much time reading the statistics on ovarian cancer treatment outcomes and survival rates. Magic at least was something she could control, that she could be useful to her mother with. Leaving it up to doctors put it out of her hands, and that scared her more than anything.
For now the pull of the books was greater than the queasiness, so Tara made her way up the steps into the stacks. Up close she could see the library was more than just old-fashioned, it was stuffed with impossibly old books. She went to the history section and pulled out the oldest volume she could find. It looked hundreds of years old, and she opened it as gently as she could.
Rupert Giles had to clean his glasses even more vigorously than usual. This had to be some kind of an anomaly: a student other than Willow was actually voluntarily reading a book. When students needed help with research and school assignments they normally headed for the computer lab. While the disinterest Sunnydale's teenagers showed in the library made his job as Watcher easier, he couldn't say he wasn't disappointed that he had no one to help with more mundane learning. He slowly walked over to the girl, and was stunned again when he saw what book she had chosen. It was a history of Rome, nothing unusual. But it was written in Latin, and she was still able to read it.
"May I help you with something?" He asked softly, not wanting to startle a fellow bibliophile.
Tara jumped a bit at the unexpected greeting and nervously looked from the book to the speaker. The man had a severe appearance, but was looking at her kindly. She shut the book, realizing she'd been reading in Latin. In public. So much for not showing off her weirdness. At least it was just the school librarian. There was something trustworthy about librarians.
"I-I was just looking around." He smiled at her, and she felt a wave of relief. "This school has a really great collection."
"I try. So you um, can read in Latin?" Giles asked, indicating the text Tara held.
"Yes. My mom t-taught me." Hopefully that didn't seem too odd to him. At least she hadn't been reading ancient Greek; that would have been a harder fluency to explain.
"That's quite impressive." He moved to another shelf, looking for a particular volume. "We have a few other books in Latin that aren't quite as dry." Giles pulled out a tall, slim black book that just had the name Ovid on the side and handed it to her.
"Wow." She said in awe as she ran her fingers over the leather cover. "Metamorphoses? I've n-never seen a copy in the original Latin." It had always been one of her favorite renditions of Greek and Roman mythology, and she was amazed that a high school would have it any language.
"Well, what Latin they could put together from the surviving manuscripts. This is a rather recent printing though, no need be as delicate as our other Latin pieces." For a moment he thought back to the Council's library in England. They had a few pieces of Ovid's original writings, as well as few volumes of the epic poem that had never been known to the larger world.
"May I…?" Tara asked, putting the history book back in favor of the newer one.
"Certainly." The Watcher said warmly as he led her to the counter to check it out.
For the first two days of school Tara had managed to be one of the first people into each classroom, securing herself a safe spot in the back. A few kids had thrown her curious glances, but for the most part her practiced invisibility was working like a charm. Wednesday she arrived at school later than usual and had to brave the gauntlet of a populated classroom. The first empty seat she saw was closer to the front than she would have liked. She glanced around and her eyes caught the gaze of the person sitting beside the empty desk. And for a second she was lost.
Wide green eyes met hers and she felt a thrill shoot up and back down her spine. It was almost like a spell. A tingle remained in her nerves as she took in the rest of the girl's appearance. She was dressed in blue, more modestly than most of the girls Tara had seen at Sunnydale High. Her long red hair was pulled back into twin ponytails tucked behind her ears, which were adorned with cute star shaped earrings. The girl's skin was pale and sparsely freckled, showing little wear from the southern California sun. She smiled at Tara and her brain snapped her out of her haze.
Congratulations, you've gone from not being able to make eye contact to staring at people. Great progress, pervert. She smiled back shyly and found a different seat against the back wall, her heart pounding.
Willow looked up from her desk as she heard another person come through the classroom door. Again it wasn't Buffy. It was a pretty girl with honey-brown hair she vaguely remembered seeing out of the corner of her eyes the first two days of classes. She was dressed a bit too warmly for the season and was glancing around nervously. The girl noticed Willow looking at her and the redhead smiled, hoping it would calm her but not encourage her to take the seat they were saving for Buffy. For some reason she felt a little regret at that idea. Maybe she was still reluctant to let Buffy sit with them after she'd been such a bitca the past few days. Or maybe it was the way this girl's watery blue eyes made her look so sad and lost, or the weird prickle Willow could feel in the tips of her fingers when the girl smiled back. It was an unusual smile, beginning with the left side of her face and slowly reaching the right. Before Willow could puzzle out the prickling sensation Buffy entered the room.
Xander saw Willow looking up from the notebook they were doodling on and followed his friend's gaze to the room's entrance. He recognized the curvy blonde as a new student sharing some classes with them. She seemed uncomfortable. Willow was smiling at her, so he smiled too, but the girl didn't seem to notice. He shrugged, only slightly disappointed. Buffy had just come in and thoughts of the new girl were forgotten. Xander looked away from the Slayer, waiting to see what she would do.
Tara found her eyes flickering back to watch the redheaded girl as the seat beside her was occupied. To her surprise it was her mystery savior, seeming hesitant. There was a dark haired boy turned around in his seat to face the two girls, and the three chatted about the teacher. She wondered if they knew who their friend was. Tara was glad that the Slayer had friends; the legend had made it sound like being the Slayer was a sentence to loneliness and isolation. She didn't mean to eavesdrop on the trio's conversation, but she couldn't help overhearing when the boy said something startling.
"Well we could grind our enemies into talcum powder with a sledgehammer but, gosh, we did that last night."
It sounded like a joke, and no one else seemed to find the statement odd. Still, given the circumstances it could be completely true. Did they know who she was? Were they different too? Tara took a peek at the boy's aura. It was temperate and made of slowly moving woody browns and bright yellows. It had an almost fuzzy texture, like a bumblebee or a young dog. There was nothing supernatural to it though. Next she looked, a bit embarrassedly, at the crimson haired girl. She had to stop herself from gasping. The girl's spirit was almost blinding in its brightness, and it moved about as if in a powerful wind that oscillated between hot and cold. The girl herself was pretty, adorable even, but her aura was the most beautiful thing Tara ever seen. It had all the colors of autumn leaves, but it hummed with the vigor of rapidly growing life, like a particularly ambitious tree. There was magic in this girl, a force she had only seen equaled in her mother at the peak of her health. It felt untapped though, like a buried gemstone encased untouched in rock. Tara had always taken for granted that she would never meet a real witch outside of her family. Now she couldn't help but hope that she'd get a chance to know this girl, to see if she knew how special she was. And on top of that, this un-awoken witch was friends with the Slayer. That was almost too big a coincidence to be random. Maybe something about this town brought people of power together.
By the time class ended Buffy was happy for the first time since she'd returned to Sunnydale. The Master was gone for good, her friends were safe, and best of all they had forgiven her for treating them like dirt and nearly getting them killed. Buffy saw an unexpected person move across her path as she got up from her seat. It was the witch from three nights ago, book bag slung over one shoulder and head bowed. She watched the taller girl leave and had that rare but welcome feeling of pride in being the Slayer. Without Buffy, the other blonde wouldn't have lived to see junior year. Then again, if she'd died she wouldn't have to endure in the empire of Snyder. Maybe I didn't do her such a big favor after all, she thought with a little smirk. This was what being the chosen one was all about: helping people.