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Halfway Home -- Chapter 1

Title: Halfway Home
Author: wolfsbane
Rating: PG-13 to R for potty mouth and my dirty mind.
Disclaimer:  Contains themes of abuse!  Please, if you are not comfortable with this, don't read.  Set at the beginning of season 2
Feedback:  Yes please!  I'll make you pancakes in the shape of starwars characters!  :D  Constructive stuff is VERY welcome.
Summary:  After her mother's death, Tara confides in someone about her abuse.  Her life is changed when authorities move her to a home in Sunnydale....
A/N: I've been itching to write this for a while now.  Thank you to alienyouthct and sirius 4-ever and a day (from ff.net) for helping me sort out my ideas!  This is my first W/T fic, but not my first fic.  If there is anybody who is willing to be a nudge and nag me to update, that would be welcome as well.

 

Tara sighed and reached into the pocket of her long, denim skirt, pulling out a tarnished gold pocket watch and flicking it open. Caressing the faded picture in it with her thumb, she bit back a sob, shook her head, and placed it in her pocket, returning to her state of waiting on the bench at the bus station.

Quarter to five. The afternoon sun warmed the blonde's face through her veil of hair. It was so much warmer here than the last place, she considered. Or maybe it just felt that way, because they weren't there anymore. Thank Goddess. Tara didn't dare call the last place she lived a "home"; it was the farthest thing from it.

************************

Her fingers found their way to the hospital band wrapped tightly around her wrist. The words MACLAY, TARA - ALLERGIC TO PENICILLIN were stamped on the plastic, as well as the date from two weeks ago. Ever since that day - the day they buried her mother, the day she told her teacher, the day her father found out - she winced - everything had changed so quickly.

That morning, she had gone straight from her mother's funeral to school, as were her father's orders. Although it was an unusually warm day for the small town high up in the mountains of California, she wore her sleeves pulled down over her arms, sitting in the back of the English classroom, out of the path of any wandering eyes. The window was propped open with a large, collector's edition of the Norton Anthology of Poems, whose only signs of wear and tear were the gouges on the top and bottom edges, where the book met the windowsill. Tara sighed, and tilted her backpack so she could see her own dog-eared and bent copy in her bag. She returned her eyes back to the bumbling man at the head of the classroom, who was lecturing into the book held close to his face, making Tara squint her eyes and wiggle her slightly protruding ears in an attempt to hear him. The droning was shocked out of the class's ear drums by the harsh ring of the bell, marking the beginning of lunch. Tara softly slung her bag over one shoulder and drifted against the current of students.

Rounding the corner of the now empty, teen-scented hallways, she opened the door to the library, giving a perfunctory nod to the woman at the checkout counter before continuing into the stacks. She lightly traced the spines of the tomes as she wandered to her nook in the fiction section. Cradled in ancient bookcases was a bay window with a ledge sticking out into the library, equipped with cushions and blankets. Instead of pulling a volume off one of the shelves as she usually would have done, Tara just curled up into a ball on her ledge and leaned her head against the windowsill. After having bitten back her tears through her classes and through the funeral - her father had said that she didn't deserve to cry; that bitch deserved what she got - she let loose. Tears flowed steadily down from her already watery blue eyes and collected in the ditch where her chin became her throat. The glass of the window cooled her cheeks as they heated with the pain she felt from her loss. Loud, hiccuping sniffles filled the otherwise silent section of the library, and a few seconds later a frizzy head poked out from behind the stacks. The careworn face of the head librarian appeared, soon followed by her body, clad in a beige pencil skirt and white, collared blouse. Cautiously, she approached the visibly broken teen and cleared her throat.

"Tara... dear," the librarian sighed.

"W-w-why?" was all she could choke out in response.

"Oh, my dear," the librarian sighed again, reaching out to the girl. "I wish I could say. Unfortunately, there isn't really a book in here about this kind of thing."

"W-we sh-sh," Tara choked. "Sh-shooould... find one. Write one. D-d-do something."

The middle aged librarian reached out to stroke the girl's arm; the girl violently flinched and curled closer to the window, causing the librarian's frown lines to deepen.

"Tara... How was... did something, er, happen, at the funeral?"

The blonde to a deep, shuddering breath.

"As an adult, th-there are s-some things I can tell you, right?"

"Of course. You know you can tell me anyth-"

"N-no, but, wh-what I mean is that if I tell you, you can do something, you can fix something, that couldn't be fixed unless I said something."

The librarian's brow furrowed. "I'm not entirely sure what you're trying to say, Tara."

Tara licked her lips and tasted the salty tang of her tears. "I've been doing some reading..." The older woman laughed lightly.

"Whu - what I m-mean to say is that I've been researching something, outside of the fiction section. And, I read that, according to the State law of Calif-fornia, there has to be evidence f-for a child to be taken a-away from her family. Not much, th-though. The child j-just needs to t-ttell an adult that she... or he... is being a-a-ab... Whu-uh, wha... Anne," she said, looking the librarian directly in the eyes.

"M-m-my father, and Donny, they've been," she choked. They've been h-hu-hurting me. And Momma. For years. A-and saying things." Things that make my skin crawl.

"We were g-going to leave, but after Mom got sick, I knew that she couldn't go anywhere. And she kept saying that I should go, that," her voice went up an octave in an attempt to keep the tears at bay. "That she was dying anyway, and I should just leave her, but I couldn't. I couldn't. And they kept saying that if I went to anybody, they'd, they'd..."

At that point, Tara could no longer string her words together without returning to tears, so instead she settled on clamping her lower lip between her teeth and shaking violently. Anne slid the hand resting on Tara's arm up to her back and eased the girl into a gentle hug. The woman rubbed delicate circles on the girl's back, and whispered into her ear, "I promise you, I'll fight with everything I have to get you away from that monster." Tara stiffened slightly in Anne's arms, and then relaxed again as the woman continued to soothe her. They stayed that way for several minutes before the sounds of heavy work boots thudding on the carpeted floors and a young man's snarling voice broke them apart.

"I'm sure you're having a grand ol' time teaching my sister how to be a dyke like you, but Daddy wants me to take her home now."

"No." It was a simple word, only two letters, which Donny had learned to say when he was little and had used it quite well ever since, but coming out if his little sister's mouth, he didn't understand it.

"Whaddya mean 'no'?"

"She means," Anne said while rising to her feet, "No, she won't go back to that... that monster. I will not allow it."

A shit-eating grin slid onto Donny's face as he cornered the two women.

"You really think you can keep me from my own sister?" He grabbed Tara tightly by the wrist and tugged her sharply from her seat, eliciting a soft groan of pain as his fingers dug into identical bruises hiding beneath her sleeve.

"You will not take her from here without going through me first," the petite woman stated, and set herself in front of Donny.

"Alright," he shrugged, and slammed the librarian against the shelves. As she slid down the bookcase, she left in her wake a faint trail of blood.

"N-no... Donny..." she murmured as she was pulled out of the library and towards the exit of the school.

"Dad said that he wanted to... talk to you."

"They'll f-find out, you know. I have f-f-four more classes, they'll notice," Tara almost begged him.

"Oh, I'm sure your teachers will forgive a girl who just lost her mother for w-w-wanting to spend quality time with her family," he mocked. All Tara could do was shut her eyes as Donny led her to the car and drove her to her father's house.

Two days later, Tara woke up in a hospital bed; Anne was standing next to her, her head swathed in bandages, and introduced Tara to a woman named Julie who was from the Child Protective Agency, and that she'd make sure Tara went someplace where she wouldn't have to worry about them anymore.

It was the same hospital where her mother had died. The doctors had been so caring to her; the minute they heard about her mother, they were so... compassionate. But when she returned - that time as a patient - her doctor had been irate on her behalf. Tara could barely understand why. Why hadn't he believed all of her father's smooth talk about how she was just depressed, how she had done all those things to herself? Why had he stayed by her bedside even after it was determined that his surgical expertise would not be needed? He had helped Anne call the Child Protective Agents to give her a new life, one outside of rural California, outside of the dingy hospital room where she had watched her mother die and saw herself be born anew.

****************************

But Sunnydale was different. The ground beneath her thrummed with an ancient energy. That hospital room was a terrible end, she thought to herself. But this - this place is full of promise. A small smile began to form on Tara's pink lips.

The setting sun patterned bursts of light in the shadows on the pavement as it passed through the branches of the trees. The splotches of light drew her gaze from the sidewalk, across the road, to three teens exiting the Ben & Jerry's with ice cream cones.

"Ooh! My turn!" the petite blonde piped up. "'It puts the lotion on the skin or else it gets the hose again.'"

"I know this. Xander made me watch when it came out. We had to sneak in through the back, all ninja-y. 'Cuz, ya know, we were only twelve, and neither of our parents would let us see it, so we got tickets to some other movie and snuck in. We were pretty bad-ass preteens," the redhead nostalgically babbled. "Of course, after seeing it, I couldn't sleep for a month, so Mom and Dad found out. They said that I was exhibiting "symptoms of guilt and trauma" and didn't let me go to people's houses for a month, saying something about "outside influences disrupting my development." It didn't really change anything, as I've only ever had Xander, and he always just snuck in when they were at work, anyway."

The large boy turned to the babbler, seemingly affronted. "Hey, the way I remember it, you were just as eager to see it as me."

The giggling blonde stepped between her two friends and teased, "Guys, you still haven't told me the name. I can't end this tie without the name, Will."

The dark-haired boy and corduroy-clad girl began: "It's-" Stopping to glare at her companion, the redhead practically leapt out of her brick red overalls like an eager four-year-old and clasped her hand firmly over his mouth. "The Silence of the Lambs," she squealed like a straight-A student racing to answer a teacher's question.

"Ding-ding-ding! And the winner is... WILLOW ROSENBERG!" the lithe blonde declared in her best announcer voice. The redhead did a jig and removed her hand from the boy's face to give her a sonorous high five that resounded across the street.

Tara gazed at the trio, a feeling gnawing at her. It was voracious. Overpowering. Permeating her entire being. Making her, dare she say it, hopeful.

Something about the redhead's infectious laughter and ebullience that brought a small, but ever so beautiful smile to Tara's face.

"Tara?"

Flinching, the startled blonde turned to look at the woman who approached her. Her bright blue eyes contrasted with the dark café color of her skin, so piercing they took her breath away for a moment. The woman awkwardly adjusted her pinstripe skirt and extended a thin hand. "I'm Joanne Jenkins, from DCPS?" she said, trying to encourage a response from the frozen teen. She swung her purse around, and, after shuffling through the contents of her bag, gently handed Tara her badge.

"N-n-nice picture," she softly stuttered.

"Thanks. I say it's the exception that proves the rule: all ID photos are awful." Tara chuckled softly. "So, got your things? Alright, let me show you where you'll be living."

Tara bent over and delicately swung the canvas duffle bag over her shoulder. She followed her contact to the silver sedan and plopped her bag in the back, making it bounce slightly on the rear tires. She looked one last time at the girl across the street.

Something drove Willow Rosenberg to look up. It stirred her, and she raised her sparkling green eyes to meet a pair of intense blue. Her heart forgot to beat, her stomach clenched, and a vacuum of longing settled in her viscera. The girl ducked behind shimmering, dark blonde hair, and slid into the car. Willow gazed curiously as it rolled away.