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Author's Note: This is a rewrite of the original episode, but with several changes; most notably; that the whole thing is from Tara's perspective, and who she ends up with at the end. I'm not prejudicial, or racial, or anything else which comes under that category, this is just the way I planned this from the moment I decided to rewrite this episode. I've also gone for more of a back story on how Tara came to be at Sunnydale UC, giving a vaguely subtle addition to Wesley's year away from the hellmouth as well. Enjoy.

Family.

"Do you think Buffy found out anything tonight?" Tara asked her companion.

"At the factory? I don't know. If there was something, I figured she'd call us." Wesley paused, suddenly unsure of himself, despite all his mental preparation for this conversation. "But that's not why I wanted to see you tonight. It's coming in two days and you still haven't told them the truth."

Tara took a deep to try and calm herself, but even so her reply reverted to her old nervousness. "I-I c-can't W-Wesley," she paused to take another deep breath, turning away from him to gaze out of her dorm room window. "I can't," she answered in a firmer but still soft voice. "There hasn't been enough time."

"You promised me that you would," Wesley reminded her.

"It's not even a year," Tara argued. "I can't afford to lose them," she added in a lower tone.

"Who says you will?" Wesley asked her, moving closer to her stance by the window. "This is no ordinary group, remember. Look at Doyle."

"I'll give you that," Tara conceded. "But look at Spike. Some of them still don't trust him, even though he's almost like Angel."

"Spike is an entirely different case," Wes replied somewhat harshly, his distrust showing through his sudden change in voice. "His demon isn't cursed, only contained, by a piece of technology that belonged to a secret military controlled operation which we routed from Sunnydale only a few months ago. We have no idea of it's long term effects, or the longevity. There are some of us who still think that giving him that talisman against the sunlight so soon was unwise."

Tara sighed knowing some parts of his argument could turn out to be true. "This could all turn out to be nothing," she said, trying a different tack. "You told me once that you believed it was nothing more than a family myth," she added, turning to face him.

Now it was Wes' turn to avoid her gaze. "I never discovered enough to be truly certain of that," he replied in a low voice. "And some of your interests lately seem to indicate otherwise."

He knew as soon as he spoke that he had gone too far. Tara turned away from him and then increased the distance between them by walking to the other end of her room. "I thought I could trust you with this," she remarked sadly. "I've been accepted because I needed to be rescued," she added. "And if this is true, they can't rescue me from it." She moved to her door, and clasped the handle before continuing. "In two days, I shall know either way. Until then there seems no point telling them." She opened the door, signalling his dismissal.

With the apology on his face, Wesley met her eyes before walking past her and out into the corridor. He flinched involuntary as she closed the door, and stood still for one moment before it, as if his eyes had the ability to see through it's wooden makeup, his mind pondering on what might have been. Then he slowly walked away.

If he had been able to see beyond the door, he would have witnessed a sight which would have made him regret that the conversation had ever taken place. He would have seen Tara meet his gaze, before succumbing to tears and seeking refuge in her bed, until exhausted sleep claimed her body and soul.

 


"Uh, I don't know what to say."

"Tell me about it," the slayer replied, her eyes directed not at her watcher, but at the empty stairs which led up to the rest of 1902 Crawford Street, alert for the first sign of intrusion from one particular guest of her and Angel's household.

Giles took a sip of his tea. "She has no idea?"

"No. She still thinks she came to us to be rescued."

"Are you going to tell her?" He asked her.

"How can I?" Buffy sighed and rose from the sofa. "She'd freak, and that's the last thing we need." Her pacing led her to the still empty staircase. "We have to keep her safe," she added, before returning to the living area.

"This ... woman, this, uh, whatever she was... she knows you now," Giles reasoned, unsure what to call the attacker whom Buffy had encountered the night before. "Should we be thinking about sending Elita away?"

"Away where?" Buffy asked him. "They sent her to me, Giles. I think I have to take care of her. I want to."

Giles nodded silently, accepting the truth of that statement. "Do we tell the others?"

"I've told Angel and Spike. But I don't think anyone else should know. They'd act weird around her, and it's safer for everyone if they don't know."

"Yes," Giles agreed, rising from his seat, his slayer's restless nature proving contagious to him. "We have to find out who this woman is, and what she needs Elita for. I mean, if she comes after you....."

"She'll come," Buffy remarked with certainty, her gaze drifting towards the stairs once more. "She'll come for us."

 


Miles away, at the factory where Buffy had barely escaped with her life the night before, a pile of rubble was all the evidence that remained of her fight with the mysterious woman inside.

Suddenly said pile broke apart, as if it were the surface of an active volcano. Concrete rubble rattled down the pile as from the destruction emerged the red dressed woman, new enemy of the slayer.

"Okay," she began, staring angrily at the empty interior of the factory around her, "Now I'm upset."

 


Having seen her early visitor to the door, Buffy returned to her bedroom on the first floor of the Crawford Mansion, to find that her absence from bed had not been as unnoticed as she previously thought.

Angel was sitting upright amongst the sheets, his eyes acquiring a slight anxiousness about them as he watched her stiffness and quick intake of breath as she bent down to sit by him. "Starting to feel that fight?"

"Nothing like gettin' your ass kicked to ... make your ass hurt," Buffy replied, before giving into the temptation of resting herself against his bare chest.

"What did Giles say?" He asked her as his arms wrapped themselves losely around her.

"Pretty much what you and Spike said last night," she answered him. "He agrees we shouldn't tell the others, and our first priority is to find out who this woman is, and how to defeat her."

"Well, the next time she encounters you, you won't be alone," Angel decided, making her turn her head to look at him. "Hey, I can take care of myself, remember?"

"I know you can, beloved," he assured her, "but I also know that your first fight took a lot out of you, more than you're will to admit."

"Perhaps," Buffy allowed, her hands idly rubbing the skin of his arms. "But it also puts us at a disadvantage. As far as she knows, I work alone. Plus, I don't want you to get hurt either."

"I've been half-human for over a year now," Angel reminded her. "And I've lost none of my strength. And if she does prove a serious threat, she'll find out that you are an exception to the general rule of Slayer doctrine eventually anyway."

"Point taken," Buffy agreed, albeit reluctantly. She glanced at the beside table to the right of her, her eyes taking note of the hours until the alarm. Then she revolved herself in her soulmate's arms, her hands beginning to stroke his chest. "I'm way too wired to try and go back to sleep," she uttered softly.

Angel smiled as his brown eyes met her own and understood the message contained therein. "Shall I see if I can heal those aches of yours?" He inquired in the same tone, as his hands began to wander their way underneath her top.

She arched herself in response to his touch, her pelvis grinding on the sheet above his own. "I don't know, some of them are pretty deep," she replied, "they may require closer examination."

"Or a penetration cure?" He asked her, continuing to stroke her skin.

"Perhaps," she repeated, the word this time having an entirely different meaning.

 


"Ow! Thumb! Necessary opposable thumb!" Xander cried as he bumped his hand on one of the bookcases in the Magic Shop, where the Slayer had corralled the Scoobies into helping Spike unload his new stock intake during the first recess of the day.

"Sorry." Angel remarked, and his tone caused Xander to stare at him suspiciously. "You know I don't think you are."

"You know what, you guys, just let Angel or Buffy take it," Spike directed.

"Got it," Xander replied, setting the box down instantly. Behind them the bell above the shop door rang, as Elita came in, carrying a pile of smaller boxes which partially obscured her vision. "I don't need help."

"Just be careful," Buffy admonished.

"But we just helped him move other stuff a few days ago..." Anya uttered as she entered, until she encountered Spike's glare. "And it was fun!" She tried to recover.

"People help each other out, Anya," Giles informed her, looking up from the book he was studying. "It's one of our strange customs."

"Giles, I noticed you're doing the smallest amount of helping that can actually be called helping," Spike remarked.

"Well, I saw myself in more of a ... patriarchal sort of role. You know, lots of pointing and scowling," he paused, glancing at the entrance, then suited actions to his words. "You two, stop that!"

"He started it," Xander claimed as he tried to release himself from the headlock Angel was giving him. "He called me a bad name. I think it was bad. It might've been Latin."

"Stop it, or you're going to break something," Giles admonished.

"Or I'm going to break something," Buffy added, making the boys let go and return to helping. Spike met his sire's grin with one of his own, then turned to smile at Tara as she joined him in helping to unpack one of the boxes.

Buffy bent to lift up one of the heavier boxes, then stopped as her aches made themselves felt again.

"You alright?" Elita asked her as she straightened up.

Buffy nodded. "Yeah, I just wish I'd been able to defeat her. Usually I do when I'm feeling this much pain."

"You'll totally take her next time," Elita declared.

"'Cause you'll have backup, baby," Xander assured her. "She's messin' with all of us."

"Yes, we'll, find her weaknesses, and then...." Giles trailed off to mine a throat cutting motion.

"Yeah," Tara agreed. "You learn her source, and, uh, we'll introduce her to her insect reflection."

A confused silence met this remark, making Tara feel once more that she was still finding her place in this group she had been part of for nearly a year. "Um ... that, that was funny if you, um, studied Taglarin mythic rites..." she picked up the now empty box, lowering her voice before adding, "and are a complete dork," she headed off to the rear door of the shop.

"Guys, now remember, you have to be at the Bronze by eight," Spike said as he began opening another box.

Everyone met his face with blank expressions. "Bronze," Buffy prompted, she, Willow and Angel the only ones who seemed to know what the chipped vampire was referring to.

"Tomorrow night! Tara's birthday!" Willow added.

"Right! Right," Cordelia agreed, remembering.

"We have to bring presents, right? Birth is a present thing?" Anya asked her boyfriend.

"I got something ... picked out, yeah," Xander replied.

"You guys can all still come, right?" Willow asked them. "I mean, I know there's ... this new evil and all, but..."

"No, no. We'll be there," Buffy assured her best friend. "Tara deserves a proper welcome to us, it's long overdue. And personally, I could definitely use a break from all this craziness."

 


"What's the story?"

"Another crazy," the intern replied to the new doctor at Sunnydale General. "Got her family out there," he added, inclining his head in the direction of the waiting room.

"Okay, let me guess, no history of mental problems," Ben said.

"Yeah. That makes like five this month," the interned informed him.

"Ah, they told me Sunnydale was gonna be interesting," Ben replied wryly.

The intern chuckled. "Yeah. Aren't you off?"

Ben checked his watch. "Yeah, as of now. Have fun." With one last look towards the new patient, Ben turned and headed towards the locker rooms.

Once inside, he began to remove his hospital coat and scrubs, ready to change into his ordinary clothes.

Further down in the locker room, a grey skinned demon, with skin broken by blood-filled sores emerged from the darkness, his sunken eyes seeking out this potential prey. His mouth opened, and his black forked tongue rolled out, tasting the air, hissing in anticipation.

Suddenly a hand clamped round his mouth and another clasped his head.

"I need a favour," the girl in the red dress announced.

 


"Thank you for coming," Anya was heard to say to a customer at the Magic Shop a few hours later. "We value your patronage." Her voice rose as the customer walked towards the exit. "Please come again for more purchases!"

"Could we please be a little less smarmy, Anya?" Spike asked his new assistant. "Don't want to frighten the people."

"I'm just so excited," Anya explained. "They come in, I help them ... they give us money in exchange for goods ... you give me money for working for you ... I have a place in the world now. I'm part of the system. I'm a working gal."

"Yes. Well, why don't you start organising the shipping orders," Spike tried.

Anya shook her head. "Oh, no, that's boring. I just want to do the money parts."

"Well, sure I forgot about the party," Cordelia remarked to Xander as they entered the shop, Doyle following them. "I mean, there's kind of a lot going on. And it's not ... you know ... the most thrilling social event of the season."

"Yeah ... it's a big deal for Tara, though," Xander argued. "I mean, you are gonna be there?"

"Yeah," Cordelia assured him.

"Hey, hi," Anya called out, leaning over the counter. Xander met her with a hand outstretched to clasp her cheek. "Gimme sugar. I've come to buy sugar." He kissed her.

"Mmm," Anya uttered when they broke apart. "We value your patronage."

The bell rang again as the slayer and Angel entered. "So, Giles, any breakthroughs on the identity of Miss Congeniality?"

"Well, I have narrowed it down somewhat," Giles informed them.

"Your definition of narrow is impressively wide," Buffy remarked as she glanced at the large assortment of books which cluttered the table before him.

"Well, you didn't give me much to go on. She looks human, so the mug shots aren't any use, and, you can't be more specific about what she's like?"

Buffy thought for a moment. "She was kinda like Cordelia, actually. I'm pretty sure she dyes her hair."

"Hey!" Cordelia cried.

"No offence," Buffy added.

"Some taken," Cordelia said, before smiling to show that she wasn't deeply insulted.

"Right! That one, of course. Our work is done," Giles commented sarcastically.

"There must be something on her," Buffy said as she sat down at the table.

"The answer is somewhere here," Xander began dramatically. "It's right in front of us and we're too blind to see it!" He added, slamming his hand on the table. Buffy glanced at exasperated. "I'm helping, I'm reading, I'm quiet," he uttered, sitting down and picking up a book.

Giles walked to the stairs which led to the loft of books not for sale. Back at the table, Buffy turned to her friend. "So ... what'd you get her?"

"Huh?" Xander asked.

"Tara. You said you got a present already."

"Yeah, that was a tangled web of lies, sweetie," he confessed. "I'm not really sure what kind of thing she'd ... I mean, I don't really know her that well. I mean, she's nice. I don't necessarily get her ... but she's really nice. There's ... just that thing of not understanding half of what she says, for example. But she's super nice." He paused to turn a page. "Think there'll be a lot of Wiccas there, heavy Wiccan crowd?"

"No, it'll be just us lot," Buffy informed him.

Xander slammed the book shut. "Ugh! I have a present-buying headache. Tara's damn birthday is just one too many things for me to worry about."

"Like you have a lot of worry," Buffy countered, causing him to acquire an injured look. "Hey, I do help you know."

"I know," Buffy agreed. "But there's nothing much we can do yet. And this is Tara. We worked so hard to get her to be our friend in the first place, and out of selfish reasons at the time. The least we can do now is show her that our vows of friendship are as true now as they were almost a year ago."

"Your right," Xander agreed. "What did you get her?"

"I'm not telling you," Buffy replied. "And don't try asking Angel either. It's a surprise and it was pretty hard work obtaining it."

"Come up with anything yet?" Giles asked as he returned to the table.

"Well, candles, maybe, or bath oils of some kind," Xander replied.

"I saw a really cute sweater at Bloomy's," Cordelia informed them as she joined them at the table, "but, I think I want me to have it."

"And you are talking about what on earth?" Giles asked them.

"Tara's birthday," Buffy revealed. "They're at a loss."

"You're in a magic shop, and you can't think what Tara would like," Giles remarked. "I believe you're both profoundly stupid."

"Well, we don't really know ... the kind of things witches like. What, are we gonna get her some cheesy crystal ball?" Xander countered.

"Bloody well better not," the watcher replied. "I've got mine already wrapped."

"Uh, are all these magic books?" A blond, youngish guy asked them.

Giles rapidly walked over and took the book out of his hand. "Uh, private collection. Books for sale are against the walls over there."

Blond Guy ignored him. "So all these books got spells in 'em? Turn people into frogs, things like that?" He asked.

"Yeah, we're building a race of frog people. It's a good time." Xander joked.

"So, uh... You all witches? Hey, don't do a spell on me now." Blond Guy laughed.

"Was there something in particular you were looking for?" Spike asked, coming out from behind the counter.

Blond Guy continued to laughed, as the bell above the door rang, and Willow and Tara entered, the former laughing at the latter's previous joke.

"Her insect reflection. That is so good."

"I just thought that'd be funny, you know, if her centre of power was," Tara broke off as she stared at the customer.

"Whatta you know," Blond guy remarked, all laughter gone. "What's the matter? You don't have a hug for your big brother?"

Tara froze, her previous expression changing to one of alarm. Willow turned to her in surprise. "Brother?"

"Willow, this is D-Donny," Tara stuttered.

"Hi," Willow remarked, offering her hand.

Donny shook it. "Nice to meet you."

"And, uh, these are my-my friends," Tara added.

"What, uh, all of you hang out? Wow. That's more people than you met in high school," he remarked, punching her lightly on the arm.

"How did you fi - I, I mean, how come you came?" Tara asked.

"Well, duh, birthday girl. Uh, we came down in the camper, been all over the campus."

"We?" Tara queried, a quiet dread beginning to seep through her heart. Her inquiry was answered by another bell ring, as her father and her cousin entered the shop.

"Look what I found!" Donny said to them.

"Uh, Dad, hi," Tara began nervously.

"Well, here's my girl," Mr Maclay replied.

Tara hugged him awkwardly. "S-such a s-surprise."

"Yes," Donny agreed.

"Cousin Beth," Tara greeted the girl who had entered with her father.

"Hey," Beth replied.

"One of your dorm-mates said I might ... find you here," Mr Maclay remarked, looking around at the shop.

"Oh. Oh, um, these are, these are friends," Tara replied, gesturing at everyone. "Um, this is William, um, he runs the shop," she added as Spike came forward.

Spike adopted his learned accent. "How do you do?"

"Pleasure," Mr Maclay replied, though his voice belied the emotion of the word. "Well, I, I don't mean to interrupt your plans, I know we've come on you kind of suddenly, but I thought we could have dinner."

"Okay," Tara agreed.

"Why don't I pick you up at six, And we'll do some catching up."

"Yes, sir," Tara uttered softly.

"Forgive me for running out. We're double-parked," Mr Maclay said, preparing to exit the shop.

"Nice to meet you all," Donny said as they walked out.

"That's so weird. Your ... whole family," Willow commented when they were gone.

Tara tried to smile. "Yeah."

"They seem nice," Willow added.

Tara sought to cover herself. "You know, they-they're okay. Families are always....."

"They make you crazy," Willow finished in understanding.

"Usually." Tara turned as, out of the corner of her eyes, she saw the camper van drive out of sight. "I'll be back in a few minutes, I've forgot to ask my tutor something."

"Sure," Willow accepted, before walking to the others.

"Tara," Spike uttered, catching up with her as she exited his shop. "Are you okay?" He asked her, concerned.

"Yeah," she lied. "I'm fine. Go back in. I won't be long. And it's not dark yet."

"Not all demons are of the nightly variety," he said to her.

"You're right about that," Tara agreed. "Honestly, go. I can take care of myself." She walked away from him before she could hear his answer.

"I'm not sure you can this time, luv," Spike uttered, watching her until she turned the corner, then returning inside.

 


"Did you tell them where I was?"

Wesley turned round in astonishment to encounter Tara's grieved form in his empty private detective offices. "Who?"

"My family."

His surprise changed to concern as he understood. "No, Tara, I swear. The last thing I told them was that I failed to find you and was resigning myself from the case."

"Well, they're here now. They obviously hired someone else."

He saw the tears begin to fall down her face and rapidly walked over to her, pulling her into his arms. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," Tara replied as she clung to him, taking deep breaths to prevent the sadness from overwhelming her.

"I told you Sunnydale might be a good place to hide," Wesley reminded her, before pressing a kiss to her hair. "I still think you should tell them," he added gently. "Buffy and the group. They'll understand. They might even be able to help."

"It's out of my hands now," Tara replied, reluctantly withdrawing from him. "You were right. I left it too late." She turned and walked out of his office.

"I didn't want to be," Wesley uttered softly, before returning to his work.

 


Instead of returning to the Magic Shop, Tara walked to her dorm, intending to see if any of her books could help in the research session. But she also knew, even before she entered the room and encountered his hard stare, that her father would not have content to leave their reunion at the Magic Shop like that.

"The door wasn't locked," he informed her. "I was a little early. I suppose you ... wanted me to see all these ... toys." His tone was one of disgust and regret. "You don't even try to hide it any more. I'd hoped maybe you'd gotten over the whole witchcraft thing. That if we let you go, you'd ... get it out of your system. Then they told me to look for you in ... that store."

"I didn't - I, I didn't kn-know that you were coming," Tara uttered.

"Of course we came. We've been looking for you for months. Your birthday's getting closer and closer. You know what that means."

"I don't think it's ... it, it won't mean that....."

"You're turning twenty. It's the same age your mother was when she... Do your friends even know?"

"Y-yes." Tara lied.

Her father saw straight through it. "Are you lying to me? Tara, you're coming home with us. You know it's the only way."

"Home?" Tara queried.

"You can't control what's going to happen. You have evil inside of you and it will come out. And letting yourself work all this magic is only going to make it worse. Where do you think that power comes from?"

"It ... it doesn't feel evil ... sir."

"Evil never does. I don't feel much like eating right now. I'll give you some time, but we need to be gone by morning. Your family loves you, Tara, no matter what. How do you think your friends are going to feel when they see your true face?"

 


The grey and blood sore demon roused himself from unconsciousness to discover that he had been tried to a clothes rack.

"Finally," the red dressed woman who had captured him remarked. "I thought you were gonna nap the whole day away. Stop whining. You know, I remember when the Lei-Ach were a proud warrior race, not sneaking around hospitals looking for weak sickly types to suck the bone marrow from. But ... let's talk about my problems for thirty seconds, if that's perfectly all right with you. Blonde ... short ... strong for a human ... and massively rude! Broke my shoe, took my monk, do you have any idea who I'm talking about?"

Lei-Ach growled and grunted in response.

"A slayer?? Oh god, please don't tell me I was fighting a vampire slayer!" The woman put a hand to her forehead in shame. "How unbelievably common! If I had friends, and they heard about this ... and you know she's going around telling everybody, I mean she probably just.." she paused to grab the demon by the throat, waking it up. "Pay attention! I am great and I am beautiful, and when I walk into a room all eyes turn to me, because my name is a holy name, and you will listen!" Her hand left his throat. "Get your friends ... find the girl ... kill the girl ... okay baby?" She grinned. "You have the cutest little suppurating sores! Has anyone ever told you that?"

 


"Hey."

Tara looked up from her previous occupation; staring at the crystal which her father had toyed with while he talked to her. "Hey," she returned to Willow.

"Was dinner fun?" Willow asked her.

"Yeah," Tara lied.

"Well, there's Scoobyage afoot. Giles called a meeting about our spankin' new menace."

"Oh ... y-you should go, they don't need me for that. You can fill me in."

"No, no, you have to come. This demon chick is supposed to be really powerful, and I was thinking. Maybe we could try that, that spell, you know, the one to find demons?"

"That didn't work," Tara reminded her.

"Yeah ... but we only tried it once, and I-I think I got some ingredients wrong," Willow replied.

"Well, I-I'm tired. Maybe we can do it tomorrow?" Tara asked her.

"You sure you don't wanna-" Willow tried, but Tara cut her off. "Look, my family's here, okay, I can't just...... Not everything is about your friends and stuff."

"Sorry," Willow uttered, turning to leave.

Tara changed tack. "No! No, I mean... There's just so much ... going on. It's just ... I'm, I'm really tired."

"Okay." Willow allowed.

"I'll see you in the morning. You can fill me in."

"Great. We'll be demon hunters," Willow agreed before leaving.

Tara waited for the door to close then sought out one of her books. She poured through the pages until she came across the right passage, then paused, thinking.

She wanted to tell them the truth. But any courage she might have had to do it had been washed away by the tidal wave that was her family. Her worse fears, fears that led her to take Wesley's advice and run from them, were telling her that it was better to conceal, until she could tell them without her family's interference.

After all, it was only until tomorrow night. Nothing would happen until then.

 


"Hey. Am I late? Did I miss any exposition?" Willow asked as she entered the shop some minutes later.

"No, no, no, no, nothing earth-shattering to relate," Giles replied. "I just have a few thoughts, and, uh, wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page."

"How's Tara?" Spike asked.

"I think her family dinner wore her out," Willow replied. "She begged off, pleading tiredness. I promised to fill her in tomorrow."

Spike nodded in acceptance and then disappeared into the stock cupboard.

"Well, first of all, I want to talk to you about," Giles trailed off, his eyes on Elita, who was examining one of the books. "Safety. Um, this creature could be...."

"Will be," Buffy corrected.

"Will be coming after Buffy, and possibly all of us," Giles continued.

At the rear of the shop, hidden behind the curtain that screened the training room, Tara crouched, watching them. "Blind Cadria," she whispered, "desolate queen, work my will upon them all. Your curse upon them, my obeisance to you." She held up her hand and blew upon it. Red dust flowed out of her palm drifting into the shop floor.

"Now, I may have a lead on this monk that Buffy spoke of," Giles continued. "There, there are a few orders that I've read up on....."

The red dust turned yellow, sending out rays, striking all of the slayerettes, making them flinch.

"I'm sorry, where was I?" Giles asked.

"The monk," Buffy prompted.

"Yes, I'd like us all to start looking at these orders, It's possible whichever one this monk belonged to wasn't wiped out entirely..."

His voice faded out of hearing to Tara as she quietly left the shop via the back door.

 


Her walk back to her dorm was uneventful and conducted alone, until she encountered her cousin. "Beth, what are you....."

"I was looking for you," Beth replied nervously.

"I'm sorry we didn't get to have dinner," Tara said.

"I just ... wanted to see if everything was okay. See if you needed any help with anything. Packing."

Tara's smile fell from her face. "Beth, I'm not, I'm n-not coming back with you."

"You're not?" Beth sought to confirm.

"I-I don't think so."

"You ... selfish bitch!" Beth said suddenly.

"What?!" Tara responded, shocked.

"You don't care the slightest bitty bit about your family, do you? Your dad's been worried sick about you every day since you've been gone. There's a, a house that needs taking care of ... Donny and your dad having to do for themselves while you're down here living god knows what kind of lifestyle. I can't wait till your little friends find out the truth about you. And they will, you know. No matter how innocent you act, they'll see."

"No they won't." Tara objected.

"They will. Unless you ... do some kind of spell on them ....You did!"

"N-no!" Tara protested.

Beth didn't believe her. "You did something to them. I'm telling your father."

"No! No, it wasn't anything!"

"You think you can just go around cursing people? Your dad's gonna pop."

"It was just so they wouldn't see," Tara revealed. "So-so-so they wouldn't see the demon part of me. Please don't tell Dad. It's harmless."

"Don't you see how out of control you are? You've been lying to these people for a year, and now you've put a spell on them, is that right? Is that a human thing to do? Now I'm telling your father. If he doesn't force you to come home, and I think he should, I know he's going to tell your friends the truth. If I were you, I'd tell them first. And then I'd tell them goodbye."

With that she walked away, leaving Tara with only once choice before her. She turned and began to run back to the Magic Shop.

 


At the shop, Willow rose up from her seat to answer a knock at the door. But when she opened it, the apparently empty night street glanced at back her. Confused, she turned and closed the door.

Behind her three Lei-Ach demons grinned in anticipation of the big kill which awaited them.

"Do I get paid overtime for this?" Anya asked Spike as she passed by the stock cupboard.

"Certainly not," Spike replied.

Giles looked up from the book he was studying. "Elita, would you close the door?"

"I didn't open it," Elita protested.

In the training room, Buffy and Angel were in the middle of his Tai Chi training until suddenly she felt her 'spider-sense' tingle in alertness. Rapidly she turned round and blocked an apparently thin air attack.

Angel turned in time to encounter the second block of nothingness, and found himself involved in the fray as well.

"Giles!" Buffy cried out, realising they needed backup of the magical detecting kind. "Something's in here!"

Giles and Xander rose from the table, the former rushing to the training room door, only to be met with resistance. Suddenly he flew backward, hitting the floor, his hand rising up as if to try and prise something from his throat.

The other rose from their seats, Willow grabbing a chair and striking the area above her best friend. Xander sighed in relief as the shock faded away.

"Where'd it go?" Anya asked.

Willow turned around, and suddenly it was her turn to fly forward.

Giles pushed Elita underneath the desk, glad that Jenny was home looking after Ellis. "Under there, go."

Spike emerged from the stock cupboard door that led into the training room, to find Buffy and Angel fighting two demons.

"Anything I can do to help?" He asked them.

"You can see them?" Buffy asked as she punched the air again.

"Of course, can't you?"

"No!" Buffy replied. "Any idea what they are?"

"Lei-Ach by the looks of them," Spike replied. "Just pound the buggers until you kill them. I'll go and help the others."

He walked out into the shop to find the others staring around.

"Where'd it go?!" Anya asked.

In response Giles suddenly reeled back from a punch.

"It's over there!" Xander stated.

"How many are there?" Giles asked.

"Three," Spike replied as Buffy entered, having despatched her first. "Shut up!" She ordered, as she sought to detect the third through silence.

Tara entered the shop. "Buffy, behind you!"

"Tara, where is it? Can you see it?" Buffy asked as she turned round.

"Oh, god." Tara uttered as the demon punched Buffy in the face. Spike rushed to the slayer's aid as Tara prepared to lift her spell. "Blind Cadria, lift your veil. Give evil form... and break my spell."

The demon growled at her and punched her, before turning back to the slayer.

Angel emerged from the back room, his demon dead, as the Maclays entered from the front, just in time to see the Slayer, blind no longer, start in earnest her fight with her second attacker.

"Tara!" Mr Maclay cried in concern, attracting the demon's attention. He turned and paused from attacking the slayer to send him to the floor.

Buffy saw the opportunity and took it, catching the demon unawares with swift punches to his stomach. He doubled over as she executed a tight backflip over his body, and then grabbed him by the back of the neck, snapping the bone.

Giles helped Elita out from her hiding place.

Mr Maclay rose from the floor. "What in god's name is that?" He asked.

"Lei-Ach demon," Spike replied. "Fun little buggers. Big with the marrow-sucking."

"I don't understand," Mr Maclay said.

"I'm not sure I do either," Buffy uttered, looking at Tara.

"I'm sorry. I'm s-s-so sorry," Tara sniffed, as Spike knelt beside her. "I was, I was trying to hide. I didn't want you to see ... what I am."

"Tara, what?" He asked her.

"What do you mean, what you are?" Buffy asked.

"Demon," Mr Maclay answered. "The women in our family... have demon in them. Her mother had it. That's where the magic comes from. We came to take her home before... well, before things like ... this started happening."

"You cast a spell on us, to keep us from seeing your ... demon side," Giles realised. "That's why we couldn't see our attackers."

"Nearly got us killed," Buffy added.

"I'll go," Tara replied, scrambling to her feet. "I'm very sorry."

"The camper's outside," Mr Maclay added helpfully.

"Wait! Go?" Willow queried. "She just did a spell that went wrong. It was just a mistake."

"That's not the point and it's not your concern. She belongs with us. We know how to control her ... problem," Mr Maclay informed them.

"Tara?" Willow asked softly. "Well, do you wanna leave?"

"It's not your decision, young lady," Mr Maclay interrupted harshly.

"I know that!" Willow replied sharply. "Do you wanna leave?" she repeated to Tara more softly.

Beyond speaking, Tara could only shake her head.

"You're going to do what's right, Tara," her father directed. "Now, I'm taking you out of here before somebody does get killed. The girl belongs with her family. I hope that's clear to the rest of you."

"It is," Buffy replied, startling everyone. "You want her, Mr. Maclay? You can go ahead and take her." She turned round to face him, hands on her hips. "You just gotta go through me."

Tara looked up from her grief to stare at the group, hope beginning to grow in her soul.

"What?" Her father queried incredulously.

"You heard me," Buffy replied. "You wanna take Tara out of here against her will? You gotta come through me."

"And me," Cordelia replied, coming to stand beside her.

"Is this a joke? I'm not gonna be threatened by two little girls."

"You don't wanna mess with us," Cordelia added.

"She's a hair-puller," Buffy informed him.

"And you're not just dealing with, uh, 'two little girls,'" Giles added, coming to stand behind her.

"You're dealing with all of us," Xander added.

"This is insane. You people have no right to interfere with Tara's affairs. We... are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?" Mr Maclay asked.

"We're family," Buffy replied, making Tara smile.

"Daaad," Donny drawled. "You gonna let 'em just... Tara, if you don't get in that car, I swear by god I will beat you down."

"And I swear by the lineage of the slayer, you're gonna break something trying," Angel replied.

"Well. I hope you'll all be happy hanging out with a disgusting demon," Beth remarked.

Anya raised her hand. "Excuse me. What kind?"

"What?" Beth asked.

"What kind of demon 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."

"Well, I-I ... what does it matter?" Beth countered.

"Evil is evil," Mr Maclay added.

"Well, let's just narrow it down," Anya decided.

"Ohhh," Spike groaned, "why don't I make this simple?" He tapped Tara on the shoulder, making her turn to him once more. When she did, he punched her, making her reel back and clutch at her injured nose, just as his chip kicked in, making him clutch at his head. "Oww!!"

"Hey!" Willow cried, then suddenly realising began again. "Hey..."

"You hit my nose!" Tara cried at Spike.

"And it hurt! Him, I mean," Willow added.

"And that only works on humans," Buffy revealed to the shocked Maclays.

"There's no demon in there," Spike added, his pain subsiding. "That's just a family legend, am I right? Just a bit of spin to keep the ladies in line." He smirked. "Oh, you're a piece of work. I like you."

"I'm not a demon?" Tara sought to confirm.

"You're not a demon," Spike assured her.

"You hurt my nose," Tara added, smiling at him.

"Yeah, you're welcome," Spike replied, smirking at her.

"Mr. Maclay, I would say your business here is finished," Giles announced.

"Tara," her father called her to face him. "For eighteen years your family has taken care of you and supported you. If you wanna turn your back-"

She stopped him. "Dad ... just go."

The Maclays turn and headed for the door. Her father paused on the threshold. "Magic," he uttered in disgust.

Beth gave her cousin a dirty look. "Are you happy now?"

Tara smiled as she watched them go, her feelings clear to her new 'family.'

 


Her happiness continued as she walked with her 'family' to the Bronze, which Xander had closed off to all other night-clubbers but themselves for the night. Tara couldn't help but smile as she received a crystal ball from Giles and a broom from Elita, amongst other birthday gifts.

Or as she tried to explain to Anya the essence of her joke. "No, see, 'cause your insect reflection represents your insignificance... in terms of the karmic cycle."

Anya nodded in understanding. "But it's still not funny." She paused, then asked. "So what's an eagle reflection?"

Tara was saved from replying by her first rescuer coming towards them. "May I have this dance?"

"Sure," Tara replied, taking his hand and letting him lead her to the floor.

"I still feel that I'm indirectly to blame for all of this," Wesley confessed as he swayed with her to the music.

Tara shook her head in protest, her hair brushing against his suit. "I would have had to face them sooner or later. Actually, I should be thanking you."

"For what?" He asked her.

"If you hadn't given me the confidence to run away, I might never have found Buffy and the others," Tara replied. "I would never feel what I'm feeling right now."

"And what's that?"

"Like I've finally found my place in the world."

"I know what you mean," Wesley replied, his eyes on the slayerettes clustered around the pool table for a moment, before returning to her as they continued to dance.

 


"How's your nose?"

Tara looked up, startled back to reality from her thoughts by the last person she had expected to see. "Just a little tender, I think," she replied.

"May I join you?" Spike asked, indicating to the empty space in the booth beside her, where she sat down for a rest while everyone else played pool or took to the dancefloor. His voice seemed different to her. It was softer, like just after he had dealt the blow that had solved once and for all whether she was human or demon. If she did not know any better, she would say that he seemed nervous. "Sure."

Spike sat down next to her on the soft furnishings. Tara turned her head to look at him carefully. "Are you all right?" She asked him.

"Yeah, the pain goes away. It always does." He paused for a moment. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"Hitting you."

"There's nothing to apologise for," Tara assured him, surprised that he wanted to. "You solved the problem for everyone concerned."

"Wouldn't have mattered either way."

"What?" Tara asked quietly, puzzled as to his meaning.

"Even if you had been a demon, we still would have fought for you. Kept you here."

"But I thought...." she trailed off in confusion.

"Well, its like Buffy said. We're family. Besides, Angel used to be a vampire before being cursed with a soul and then granted redemption. Doyle's part Bracken demon, Oz is a werewolf three nights of the month, and Anya is a former vengeance demon. So, even if you had been a demon, it wouldn't have mattered. We all know that the world is never black and white. Just shades of grey."

Tara nodded, silent as she ingested all of this information once more. She had learned everything nearly a year ago, but the deeper meaning behind it had never struck her until now.

Spike spoke again. "Personally, I'm glad you're not a demon. Didn't want that fate for both of us."

She looked up at him, startled. He reached out to cup her cheek. "Does your nose still hurt?" He asked softly.

"I don't think so." She replied, unable to look away. He leant forward and kissed it tenderly. She blushed as he drew back, only to lean forward again, with a change in destination. As he touched her lips with his, she felt this day turn from good, to perfect.

From the dancefloor, Buffy happened to look up and see what she would have thought the unlikeliest couple to ever come together, locked in an embrace. She smiled as her own former vampire wrapped his arms around her and kissed her hair. They gazed at the couple for a minute more then turned away, and left them to their own private world.

The End.
To Be Continued In

A Mundane Life.