All Your Freedom
by Branwyn

Just tell your gods for me all debts are off this year
They're free to leave
Yes, they're free to leave...
Tori Amos "Scarlet's Walk"

"I did some pretty dumb stuff, like lying to my family and staying out all night..."

Guilt redeems. Tara, anxious for redemption, pretends guilt she does not feel over incidents that never mattered to anyone: talking back to her dad; skipping school. She lets everyone believe that she is too hard on herself; that the hunch in her shoulders came from years of letting her father berate her for dumb, forgivable things. They are anxious to forgive her for her innocence, and do not dream that the inexhaustible source of her guilt stems from a place in Tara's mind she's always been careful to hide from view. Tara does what she must to maintain Scooby privileges.

Tara has nightmares about the day her father came after her, nightmares in which Buffy is glaring, and she is stammering so badly that she cannot explain or defend herself. (You want her Mr McClay? You can go ahead and take her.) Willow's stony eyes follow her out the door of the Magic Box, and hell re-emerges to swallow her whole while Donny stands by and smiles.

Sometimes Buffy's gaze is as heavy as her father's, as full of doubt and righteousness.

There is a numb place in Tara's brain where all her hellish realities can co-exist without intruding on her more regular functions. Thoughts of Willow are imprisoned there for the moment, which allows Tara to get back to the house (Buffy's house) and pack, calmly.

When Tara gets behind the wheel of her car it is suddenly three years ago, and she is headed west, fleeing Wisconsin and the memory of her mother's corpse. Headed toward UC Sunnydale with her mother's inheritance and the will to forge a brand-new life. She remembers the rush of warm air through the windows, the car gliding over dips in the road as though flying. As though Tara herself were winged.

Tara has no wings now; she has scratchy eyelids and no lump in her throat. She pulls out of the driveway and heads for the interstate.


Tara speeds until she crosses the state line at ten o'clock. At this rate she'll be well into New Mexico by dawn and not until she thinks this does she realize she's headed south. Willow will be home now, probably not surprised to find her gone. The surprise (rage) will come in the morning when Willow registers the absence of Tara's journal, her laptop, her tarot cards. She has an IQ of 170. She'll figure it out.

Tara taps her fingers against the steering wheel, incants a ward that will block a locator spell. She reaches into the front zip pocket of her book bag and extracts a small satin bag, slipping it over the rear view mirror. We always know how to find each other...

Tara stops at a Huddle House and gas station in Nevada. No one notices her coming inside. She is disguised by her plainness, by the dim eyes that no longer seek her lover at the opening of every door and the lank hair pulled back in a pony tail.

She sits at the counter and orders two pancakes from a teenager who looks like Dawn. She regrets then that she did not say goodbye; remembers how much Dawn looks like Beth at sixteen. Remembers how it felt to leave Beth behind three years ago, then find her with Donny, a tired nineteen-year-old housewife.

She eats quickly and fills up the car, buying soda and pretzels for the road. She finds an audio book (Harry Potter number three) and listens to it for about an hour before realizing that the thoughts she meant to drown out are clamoring over the British voice coming from her stereo.

The near sound of a British accent reminds her of last summer in the Magic Box, Willow covertly researching the resurrection spell while Tara distracted Giles. He was peaceful and pleasant as long as he could be kept talking, but it was impossible to look into his eyes and not see Buffy, dying, like a movie on continuous replay. Tara's stammer, normally less pronounced in Giles' presence, was worse than it had ever been that summer. She was grateful for it, a barrier between audibility and all the treacherous thoughts she wanted to articulate.

Buffy was the lucky one, she imagines saying to Giles and seeing the languor in his eyes change to something violent and hateful. Normal people don't get to die for a cause, don't get to trade their lives for anything, don't die beautiful in a vortex of pristine light. Normal people die corrupted, old, wasted or mangled. Life continues in their absence. But we act like we were never anything but Buffy's appendages. Willow has to bring Buffy back, because she and Xander and Giles can't have any kind of life without her. Not with me or Anya or any one else in the world.


But this is done. Tara is on the road now, heading south to some place where there is no love, no friendship, no fear. She left the fear in Sunnydale with Buffy, who no longer has the power to revoke her approval. The friendship is hiding in a corner of the Magic Box, still silently waiting for Giles to smile at her, and the love is pulsing red and raw in Willow's fist.

How easy to agree with everyone on the subject of Willow's magic. Abuse -- addiction -- as though Willow were weak, and not suffused with sheer, terrifying power. Of course it felt wrong; power was supposed to belong to Buffy. Willow, powerful, repelled everyone. Willow, powerful, was obscene.

It was Donny who taught her that people inevitably will do what they can do. Yet girls were safe -- like Beth, whose softness colored Tara's erotic imagination for slight, brown haired girls with the round features of young teenagers.

But Tara had always known that Willow would be different. She had a lot of power. Like you.

She lowers all the windows at once and the roar of the road fills the car. Tara did not get her license until she had to, when someone needed to drive her mother back and forth from the hospital. Even after she had the license, and her own car, Tara stayed in at night, manacled to the fear of her mother's withering body. Those nights, always sleepless, were spent outside, where the vastness of the moon and the borderless Wisconsin fields mocked her imprisonment. She waited and waited and suddenly one night it was over (it's always sudden) and there was the silent implosion of six months of fear and (I had thoughts and feelings that I didn't understand...)

This was me, Buffy, when my mother died: I was crazy, not with grief, but with guilt for not feeling grief, because I was relieved that she was finally gone and there was no more reason to stay in that house. I ran away from her, and now I'm running again, because I don't owe Willow anything. You can love someone, and their love for you can still be too heavy, and I'm leaving it there with her and with you and I just don't care...

Tara has never been anywhere but behind the wheel of this car, turning her back on the power that failed her. Losing her mother, losing Willow, was worth gaining this electric freedom, this power, which is all her own, to choose another way.

It's full daylight when she pulls into Roswell and stops, refueling and eating and checking into a motel. She wonders if she will stay here as she falls asleep, and realizes near the border of unconsciousness that she won't know until she wakes up. And that this too is freedom.


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