Okay, so she could have handled that better. Willow knew that. She changed her position for what felt like the eighth time that minute and lit another cigarette. Then stubbed it out. Then re-lit it. She couldn't believe she'd said that to Faith. Willow knew that she, and only she, was responsible for anything she'd done. Faith had introduced the concept-but it hadn't started out as bad as it had ended. And Willow took a large chunk of the blame for that ending.
Willow heaved a sigh, stubbed out the barely smoked cigarette and walked on. When Willow was 15, and Faith was, she thinks, not far from 16 they had had enough of stealing and sneaking and sleeping in gutters. Willow gave a little snort of amusement. Of course they'd had enough. She didn't know anyone who went to sleep in a mouldy box each night thinking 'God, I love this! I can't wait to do it again tomorrow night.'
Faith had been getting pushed by a druggie she'd known before Willow. He thought Faith would make a great seller, with her big brown doe eyes and cocky swagger. Willow could tell Faith knew him, not just knew of him, but knew him; and the guy, Rack, would make little comments to her that made Willow wonder. Stuff like 'you know, Faithless, that doesn't happen often' and 'you can't deprive yourself of the cash just 'cause of some stupid little Mouse's mistake'. Willow had questioned her on what he meant. She'd gotten glared at as a response. She didn't ask again. She knew Faith used to kick it with another girl, before Willow. Her name was Amy. That was all Willow knew. And when Faith heard that name and Willow saw the guilt written all over her face, she wasn't sure she wanted to know more.
Faith had continued to tell Rack to fuck off.
Then one night, when it was obvious winter was on its way in Faith had disappeared for the night. Willow had waited under the Bridge they were crashing at. She figured Faith had gone to pinch more clothes, or blankets. Winter scared the shit out of Faith, and Willow wasn't to fond of it either. Faith had appeared the next night with little bags of smack and told Willow that she was going to sell them and get them some cash.
Willow had insisted on helping. Faith had told her no, she'd sell it on her own. Willow told her to get stuffed, everything they did, they went into together and came out of together. So they'd started selling.
They'd meet Rack, or one of his dodgies, most often some peroxide pimply kid calling himself Spike ("His real name is William!" Faith has sniggered at her) regularly, to swap crack for cash and to give Rack his cut. It had worked, for awhile.
Faith had one rule. They never sold to someone who looked under twenty. They kidded themselves that they were helping society a little this way. A few months passed and then they'd gotten caught. They really should have chosen younger people. Younger people were less likely to be undercover cops. And this particular undercover cop had sent them off to juvy. Again.
They'd been in once before when they were caught with their hands in the cash register at a little clothing boutique. They'd served a few months, then the government tried to put them into foster care but Willow and Faith has bolted the second they had their feet out the door. They weren't looked for-the foster system was over ran with kids like themselves.
The same thing happened this time, in for a few months, then out for good behaviour, then they'd bolted.
And gone straight back to Rack.
Willow shook her head. They'd been pretty damn stupid.
Rolling her shoulders and preparing herself, Willow pushed open the doors to Chalk On Ice and walked through the crowd of regulars, smirking at Terry, who was already passed out on a pool table. She ended up in the back, in the dingy kitchen, and looked around for Faith.
She wasn't there. She wasn't behind the bar either. Or in the office with Lou.
Willow felt her throat close up.
Shit. She'd really done it now.
Faith never missed a shift.
The night crawled by. Willow was snapping at everyone who pushed her buttons, and she ended up with no tips. She told Lou Faith was sick. Lou just grunted. Faith was too good an employee for him to want to fire.
She closed up as quick as she could and ran back to their flat. Willow burst through the front door and almost leapt out of her skin when she saw Faith sitting on the sofa, calm as can be, just staring at her.
"Shut it, Willow."
Willow almost choked. She hadn't heard her name from Faith since...well...ever.
The two of them stared at each other for a long second. Willow was about to open her mouth again when Faith started moving. She reached into her pocket and threw onto the floor a handful of baggies filled with fine white powder.
"In it together, out of it together, hey, Red."
Tara sat staring at the teacher without really seeing him. Or hearing him. She normally loved this class. Philosophy was something she could wrap her head around, lose herself in. And Professor Giles really knew how to teach it.
Today, though, she just wasn't interested.
Donny had shown up last night. It had only been three days since her father had left, leaving the note saying Donny needed help with the mission. She had thought it was be at least a few weeks until she had to see either of them again. Yet she walked in after school to find Donny standing in the front hall, waiting for her.
"Hey there, little sis. Long time no see."
Tara could see his eyes were red; she could smell the alcohol from where she stood. Donny needed help with the mission. Right. More like Donny needed AA.
Tara tried to smile, "H-hey Donny. I didn't think you'd be back from East Timor for a-awhile."
She cursed the stuttering.
Donny smirked and swayed, taking a few steps towards her. "Y-you'd l-love that, wouldn't y-you," She winced, hating to be mocked for something she couldn't help, "Fuck knows what you get up to when Dad and I are away, Tara. Bet you love it when we aren't home." His smirk increased in severity, "Bet you hide Grace in your room. You little slut."
Tara reeled as if slapped. It had been so long since she'd had to hear that. Donny had 'reformed', had 'found god again' in the last few years. She'd taken anger from him during last years business, but it was more controlled, the alcohol wasn't there to fuel his rage; his disgust. She'd taken the beating from her father, and her brother had got in a few good hits too.
And he did that while sober.
Tara looked around, hoping Sophie wouldn't be near to hear any of this. Sophie didn't need to see Donny get violent.
"Donny, I r-repented for that. I-I've taken it back." Tara cast her eyes to the ground.
"Liar. I know the look of a liar who repents, Tara. Fucking whore. You're sick, Tara." Donny was close enough to grab her arm, to shake it. The smell of whisky washed over her, "Tara, God knows your sick thoughts. And so do I."
It wasn't as bad as it had been before. Over quickly. He was too drunk to cause much trouble. Not too drunk to forget not to hit her face though. No, the bruises were on her arms, easily hidden.
Her family were good at keeping their skeletons in the closet.
Buffy knew. She kept looking sideways at her and reaching her hand forward to cover Tara's. At lunch, when Tara had said she wasn't hungry, Buffy had gotten up, gotten her a chocolate milk and placed it in front of her.
Tara couldn't help but twitch a smile at that.
"You told me when we were seven that chocolate fixes everything, Tare." Buffy had attempted to smile at her.
Tara really didn't know what she'd do without her friends sometimes. They drove her mad, but they tried to help where they could.
Tara snapped to at the sound of the bell. The day was over. She shook her head and started to gather her things.
"Tara, could I see you for a moment." Tara looked up to see Professor Giles looking at her.
She nodded and walked towards him. Buffy yelled out that she'd see her at the lockers and left.
The Professor gathered his things together and waited for the last nosey student to wander slowly out.
"Tara. Was I absurdly dull today?"
Tara couldn't help but smile, "No, Professor, not at all. I-I'm sorry, I was distracted."
Professor Giles sighed and took his glasses off, cleaning them with the edge of his shirt, "Tara, I hear your brother is back?"
Tara felt her face scrunch up in confusion, "How did you know?"
"The teachers...well, we all know about Donny's past. We keep quiet, out of respect, but most of us are aware."
Tara had assumed as much. Donny's earlier exploits had made him famous amongst the boys at his school, and with the girls here. The teachers were bound to be conscious of them as well.
"Tara, I just want you to know...if there's anything I can assist you in, please let me know. You're an excellent student, Tara. I'd hate to see you're broth-I'd hate to see you fall behind due to personal reasons. If you need any help, with class or-or anything, please know you can come to me."
Tara met Professor Giles' eyes, "Thankyou."
He nodded at her and she walked out.
It was comforting, to know an adult was aware. Even if there was nothing he could do.
Buffy and Anya took Tara to the movies. It was a comedy. Then they dragged her to the latest action flick. They then took her to the newest horror movie. They were about to drag her into the Drama film out when Tara put her foot down. "Guys, really, I can't watch another movie!"
Buffy and Anya gave her a wry grin, "Sorry Tare."
Tara laughed, "No, thanks guys, it's been great. I just, I think I need to sleep. It's been a long day."
"You're staying at mine!" Anya stopped short as Buffy and Tara looked at her with raised eyebrows, "Sorry, that was said far too excitedly. But you are. You aren't going home, you're coming to mine. You, too, Buffy."
Tara couldn't help but feel relieved.
On there way out, Tara caught site of something that made her giggle. Buffy gave her a look and asked, "What are you laughing about Tara?"
"That guy," She pointed to the dark haired boy with the nice smile serving popcorn, "Has been making eye's as Anya all afternoon."
Buffy's eyes widened and poked Anya, "Ooo Anya."
Anya rolled her eyes, "Please. He's the popcorn guy. His name is Xander and he gives me free candy sometimes. But like I would go there with someone who earns two dollars an hour."
Buffy giggled and said, "Free candy, eh?"
Tara laughed as Anya slapped Buffy upside the head, but then caught the wistful look on Anya's face as they walked out the exit doors.
She glanced back and saw the same look on Xander's face as he watched them leave.
It being Friday, Tara called and let Sophie know where she would be, knowing she couldn't protest with there being no school that night.
Tara spent the night eating and talking and mostly just sitting back and listening to Anya and Buffy gossip. She liked these times, she felt almost...relaxed and normal when she got to just be with her friends.
They went to sleep late and woke late. The girls parted ways after getting fed pancakes by Anya's cook.
When she got into the house the next morning, Donny was no where to be seen. Tara let herself enjoy the emptiness and quiet, knowing he wouldn't be gone too long. She started her homework and avoided calls on her mobile from Graham. When the house phone rang, she ignored that too. She sighed inwardly when she heard Sophie padding towards her room.
"Miz Tara, there's a boy on the phone."
Tara called Sophie in and took the phone, "Thanks Sophie."
Tara prepared herself to act happy girlfriend and put the phone to her ear, "Hello?"
"Hey, Tara? It Jake."
Oh, no. Jake.
"Tara? Are you there?"
"Yeah, I'm here."
Jake was Donny's friend. A nice guy, actually. He was dragged out with Donny when Donny wanted to get blind, and then Jake would have to call Tara or their Dad to come drag Donny out from whatever skeazy bar they were in. This hadn't happened in awhile.
"I'm sorry, Tara. I can't get him home, I've had a few too many myself. We're at the old bar, "Sammy's", can you come get him. He's passed out on the counter, so he won't give you any trouble."
Tara closed her eyes for strength, "I'll be there soon, Jake. Thanks."